April 26, 2021
President Biden announced a new target for the United States to achieve a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030 – building on progress to-date and by positioning American workers and industry to tackle the climate crisis.
The announcement was made during last week’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate that President Biden held to challenge the world on increased ambition in combatting climate change. This is part of the Administration’s commitment set a course for the United States to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad. As part of re-entering the Paris Agreement, the President also launched a whole-of-government process, organized through his National Climate Task Force, to establish this new 2030 emissions target – known as the “nationally determined contribution” or “NDC,” a formal submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The target is consistent with the President’s goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050 and of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the science demands. To develop the target, the Administration:
- Used a whole-of-government approach: The NDC was developed by the National Climate Task Force using a whole-of-government approach, relying on a detailed bottom-up analysis that reviewed technology availability, current costs, and future cost reductions, as well as the role of enabling infrastructure. Standards, incentives, programs, and support for innovation were all weighed in the analysis. The National Climate Task Force is developing this into a national climate strategy to be issued later this year.
- Consulted important and diverse stakeholders: From unions that collectively bargain for millions of Americans who have built our country and work to keep it running to groups representing tens of millions of advocates and young Americans, the Administration listened to Americans across the country. This also included groups representing thousands of scientists; hundreds of governmental leaders like governors, mayors, and tribal leaders; hundreds of businesses; hundreds of schools and institutions of higher education; as well as with many specialized researchers focused on questions of pollution reduction.
- Explored multiple pathways across the economy: The target is grounded in analysis that explored multiple pathways for each economic sector of the economy that produces CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gases: electricity, transportation, buildings, industry, and lands.
Two Senior Managers in Italy Charged with Conspiracy to Cheat U.S. Emissions Tests and Defraud U.S. Consumers
An indictment was unsealed in the Eastern District of Michigan charging two Italian nationals, along with a previously charged co-conspirator, for their alleged role in a conspiracy to defraud U.S. regulators and customers by making false and misleading statements about the emissions controls and fuel efficiency of more than 100,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States by FCA US LLC.
According to court documents, Sergio Pasini, 43, of Ferrera, Italy, and Gianluca Sabbioni, 55, of Sala Bolognese, Italy, two senior diesel managers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Italy S.p.A. (FCA Italy), a wholly owned subsidiary of Stellantis N.V. — along with a previously charged co-conspirator, Emanuele Palma, 42, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — were responsible for developing and calibrating the 3.0-liter diesel engine used in certain FCA diesel vehicles. Their responsibilities included calibrating several software features in the vehicles’ emissions control systems to meet emissions standards for nitrogen oxides (NOx), a family of poisonous gases that are formed when diesel fuels are burned at high temperatures, while also achieving best-in-class fuel efficiency targets set by FCA US LLC.
The superseding indictment alleges that Palma, Pasini, Sabbioni, and their co-conspirators, purposely calibrated the emissions control functions to produce lower NOx emissions under conditions when the subject vehicles would be undergoing testing on the federal test procedures or driving “cycles,” and higher NOx emissions under conditions when the subject vehicles would be driven in the real world. Palma, Pasini, Sabbioni, and their co-conspirators allegedly referred to the manner in which they manipulated one method of emissions control as “cycle beating.” As alleged, by calibrating the emissions control functions on the subject vehicles to produce lower NOx emissions while the vehicles were on the driving “cycle,” and higher NOx emissions when the vehicles were off the driving “cycle,” or “off cycle,” the three defendants purposely misled FCA’s regulators by making it appear that the subject vehicles were producing less NOx emissions than they were, i.e., in real world driving conditions. Palma, Pasini, and Sabbioni also allegedly made and caused others to make false and misleading representations to FCA’s regulators about the emissions control functions of the subject vehicles in order to ensure that FCA obtained regulatory approval to sell the subject vehicles in the United States.
The superseding indictment also alleges that Palma, Pasini, and Sabbioni employed “cycle beating” to achieve best-in-class fuel efficiency and make the subject vehicles more attractive to FCA’s potential customers, i.e., by increasing fuel economy and reducing the frequency of a required emissions control system service interval. The superseding indictment alleges that the co-conspirators understood their “cycle beating” calibration would harm consumers who purchased the vehicle, leading them to acknowledge that “there will always be the unlucky customer who will have the misfortune of using our loser cal[ibration].”
Pasini and Sabbioni are each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and six counts of violating the Clean Air Act. If convicted, Pasini and Sabbioni each face up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act, up to 20 years in prison on the conspiracy count to commit wire fraud, and up to two years in prison for each count of violating the Clean Air Act. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Palma is charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of violating the Clean Air Act, and two counts of making false statements to representatives of the FBI and the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID). If convicted, Palma faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act, up to 20 years in prison on the conspiracy count to commit wire fraud, up to two years in prison for each count of violating the Clean Air Act, and up to five years in prison for each count of making false statements. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kevin O. Driscoll of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Saima S. Mohsin of the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan; Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD); Special Agent in Charge Timothy Waters of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Lance Ehrig of the EPA-CID’s West-Central Region made the announcement.
Principal Assistant Chief Henry P. Van Dyck and Trial Attorneys Kyle W. Maurer and Jason M. Covert of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, ENRD Senior Trial Attorney Todd W. Gleason, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John K. Neal and Timothy J. Wyse for the Eastern District of Michigan are prosecuting the case.
Dumpster Diving in the Emergency Department
Emergency departments of hospitals generate significant amounts of environmentally harmful waste which could be reduced through basic changes to disposal policies and practices, while producing lower operating costs, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have found. Efforts to optimize the daily waste stream through improvements such as switching from disposable to reusable items in the ED, better sorting of infectious waste, and more effective recycling of items like glass and aluminum could have meaningful impact both environmentally and financially, according to the study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine
"People working in emergency departments have no idea how much waste they routinely generate, nor that the environmental impact is totally at odds with their professional mission to improve health and save lives," says Jonathan E. Slutzman, MD, investigator in the Department of Emergency Medicine at MGH and senior author of the study. "A greater awareness of the harm that's being done, along with the opportunities that are available to turn that situation around, should be on the agenda of every hospital in America."
Healthcare facilities in the U.S. generate 6,600 metric tons of waste each day, making them the second largest contributor to landfill waste (next to the food industry). They also produce 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emission as well as other pollutants known to adversely affect human health. The MGH investigation is the first to quantify and characterize the volume of waste emanating from emergency departments. To that end, researchers conducted a 24-hour waste audit in July 2019 at MGH's Level 1 trauma center in Boston. The team collected, manually sorted into separate categories, and weighed each waste stream component. It also calculated direct pollutant emissions from ED waste disposal activities.
Among the findings was that 85 percent of all items disposed of as regulated medical waste (RMW) -- the most hazardous ED materials that must be deposited in red bags and autoclaved to render them safe prior to being sent to landfills -- did not meet the criteria for regulated medical waste. "We always want healthcare workers to err on the side of caution when it comes to waste disposal, but the fact is regulated medical waste costs up to ten times as much to dispose of as solid waste," notes Sarah Hsu, with the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, and lead author of the study. "But if we could divert through better sorting some fraction of medical waste that now goes into red biohazard bags to regular solid waste, it would open up significant cost-saving opportunities for hospitals."
Another area rife with opportunity, according to the researchers, is transitioning from the use of disposable devices to more durable, reusable alternatives that would lead to waste reduction and supply savings. One example is the laryngoscope, commonly used in the ED to insert a breathing tube into the trachea, which could be reprocessed onsite and safely used multiple times rather than discarding it after a single use. Rethinking the use of plastic packaging, which was estimated by the MGH study to be responsible for over 40 percent of all emergency department solid waste, also holds the potential for significant waste reduction. MGH, for its part, asks suppliers to ship products in non-disposable bulk packaging, whenever possible, enabling reuse. Suppliers are also "debulking" items at distribution centers, enabling packaging to be reused from that point rather than being shipped all the way to the hospital.
To determine the best opportunities for waste reduction, Slutzman suggested that hospitals conduct their own audits of emergency department waste. "Gaining a full awareness of the problem and its downstream consequences on the health of the community is an important first step toward a solution," he says. "In addition to audits, hospitals should assemble all stakeholders around the table to explore alternatives to their current waste disposal practices. Our study shows that significant improvements can be made to optimize ED waste management, and as healthcare professionals we owe it to our patients and the community to take responsible action."
The Future Looks Bright for Infinitely Recyclable Plastic
Plastics are a part of nearly every product we use on a daily basis. The average person in the U.S. generates about 100 kg of plastic waste per year, most of which goes straight to a landfill. A team led by Corinne Scown, Brett Helms, Jay Keasling, and Kristin Persson at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) set out to change that.
Less than two years ago, Helms announced the invention of a new plastic
that could tackle the waste crisis head on. Called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, the material has all the convenient properties of traditional plastics while avoiding the environmental pitfalls, because unlike traditional plastics, PDKs can be recycled indefinitely with no loss in quality.
Now, the team has released a study
that shows what can be accomplished if manufacturers began using PDKs on a large scale. The bottom line? PDK-based plastic could quickly become commercially competitive with conventional plastics, and the products will get less expensive and more sustainable as time goes on.
“Plastics were never designed to be recycled. The need to do so was recognized long afterward,” explained Nemi Vora, first author on the report and a former postdoctoral fellow who worked with senior author Corinne Scown. “But driving sustainability is the heart of this project. PDKs were designed to be recycled from the get-go, and since the beginning, the team has been working to refine the production and recycling processes for PDK so that the material could be inexpensive and easy enough to be deployed at commercial scales in anything from packaging to cars.”
The study presents a simulation for a 20,000-metric-ton-per-year facility that puts out new PDKs and takes in used PDK waste for recycling. The authors calculated the chemical inputs and technology needed, as well as the costs and greenhouse gas emissions, then compared their findings to the equivalent figures for production of conventional plastics.
“These days, there is a huge push for adopting circular economy practices in the industry. Everyone is trying to recycle whatever they’re putting out in the market,” said Vora. “We started talking to industry about deploying 100% infinitely recycled plastics and have received a lot of interest.”
“The questions are how much it will cost, what the impact on energy use and emissions will be, and how to get there from where we are today,” added Helms, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry
. “The next phase of our collaboration is to answer these questions.”
To date, more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic material have been produced, and the vast majority of this has ended up in landfills or waste incineration plants. A small proportion of plastics are sent to be recycled “mechanically,” meaning they are melted down and then re-shaped into new products. However, this technique has limited benefit. Plastic resin itself is made of many identical molecules (called monomers) bound together into long chains (called polymers). Yet to give plastic its many textures, colors, and capabilities, additives like pigments, heat stabilizers, and flame retardants are added to the resin. When many plastics are melted down together, the polymers become mixed with a slew of potentially incompatible additives, resulting in a new material with much lower quality than newly produced virgin resin from raw materials. As such, less than 10% of plastic is mechanically recycled more than once, and recycled plastic usually also contains virgin resin to make up for the dip in quality.
PDK plastics sidestep this problem entirely – the resin polymers are engineered to easily break down into individual monomers when mixed with an acid. The monomers can then be separated from any additives and gathered to make new plastics without any loss of quality. The team’s earlier research shows that this “chemical recycling” process is light on energy and carbon dioxide emissions, and it can be repeated indefinitely, creating a completely circular material lifecycle where there is currently a one-way ticket to waste.
Yet despite these incredible properties, to truly beat plastics at their own game, PDKs also need to be convenient. Recycling traditional petroleum-based plastic might be hard, but making new plastic is very easy.
“We’re talking about materials that are basically not recycled,” said Scown. “So, in terms of appealing to manufacturers, PDKs aren’t competing with recycled plastic – they have to compete with virgin resin. And we were really pleased to see how cheap and how efficient it will be to recycle the material.”
Scown, who is a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies and Biosciences Areas, specializes in modeling future environmental and financial impacts of emerging technologies. Scown and her team have been working on the PDK project since the outset, helping Helms’ group of chemists and fabrication scientists to choose the raw materials, solvents, equipment, and techniques that will lead to the most affordable and eco-friendly product.
“We’re taking early stage technology and designing what it would look like at commercial-scale operations” using different inputs and technology, she said. This unique, collaborative modeling process allows Berkeley Lab scientists to identify potential scale-up challenges and make process improvements without costly cycles of trial and error.
The team’s report, published in Science Advances, models a commercial-scale PDK production and recycling pipeline based on the plastic’s current state of development. “And the main takeaways were that, once you’ve produced the PDK initially and you’ve got it in the system, the cost and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with continuing to recycle it back to monomers and make new products could be lower than, or at least on par with, many conventional polymers,” said Scown.
Thanks to optimization from process modeling, recycled PDKs are already drawing interest from companies needing to source plastic. Always looking to the future, Helms and his colleagues have been conducting market research and meeting with people from industry since the project’s early days. Their legwork shows that the best initial application for PDKs are markets where the manufacturer will receive their product back at the end of its lifespan, such as the automobile industry (through trade-ins and take-backs) and consumer electronics (through e-waste programs). These companies will then be able to reap the benefits of 100% recyclable PDKs in their product: sustainable branding and long-term savings.
“With PDKs, now people in industry have a choice,” said Helms. “We’re bringing in partners who are building circularity into their product lines and manufacturing capabilities, and giving them an option that is in line with future best practices.”
Added Scown: “We know there’s interest at that level. Some countries have plans to charge hefty fees on plastic products that rely on non-recycled material. That shift will provide a strong financial incentive to move away from utilizing virgin resins and should drive a lot of demand for recycled plastics.”
After infiltrating the market for durable products like cars and electronics, the team hopes to expand PDKs into shorter-lived, single-use goods such as packaging. As they forge plans for a commercial launch, the scientists are also continuing their techno-economic collaboration on the PDK production process. Although the cost of recycled PDK is already projected to be competitively low, the scientists are working on additional refinements to lower the cost of virgin PDK, so that companies are not deterred by the initial investment price.
And true to form, the scientists are working two steps ahead at the same time. Scown, who is also vice president for Life-cycle, Economics & Agronomy at the Joint BioEnergy Institute
(JBEI), and Helms are collaborating with Jay Keasling, a leading synthetic biologist at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley and CEO of JBEI, to design a process for producing PDK polymers using microbe-made precursor ingredients. The process currently uses industrial chemicals, but was initially designed with Keasling’s microbes in mind, thanks to a serendipitous cross-disciplinary seminar.
“Shortly before we started the PDK project, I was in a seminar where Jay was describing all the molecules that they could make at JBEI with their engineered microbes,” said Helms. “And I got very excited because I saw that some of those molecules were things that we put in PDKs. Jay and I had a few chats, and we realized that nearly the entire polymer could be made using plant material fermented by engineered microbes.”
“In the future, we’re going to bring in that biological component, meaning that we can begin to understand the impacts of transitioning from conventional feedstocks to unique and possibly advantaged bio-based feedstocks that might be more sustainable long term on the basis of energy, carbon, or water intensity of production and recycling,” Helms continued.
PDK technology is available for licensing and collaboration. If interested, please contact Berkeley Lab’s Intellectual Property Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sierra Pacific Industries Fined $108,300 After Fatal Pressure Vessel Incident
Cal/OSHA has cited Sierra Pacific Industries $108,300 for workplace safety and health violations after one of its employees was fatally injured when a pipeline on an air compressor exploded.
On September 17, an employee working for Sierra Pacific Industries in Lincoln was setting up a Quincy 300 Compressor when a pipeline on the air compressor exploded. Pieces of the pipeline hit two employees nearby, injuring one and killing another.
“Working on equipment attached to pressure vessels such as air compressors requires special precautions,” said Cal/OSHA Deputy Chief Debra Lee. “Employers must identify and evaluate potential hazards before assigning employees to perform work on this hazardous machinery and equipment.”
Cal/OSHA cited Sierra Pacific Industries $108,300 for nine violations, including three serious accident-related, three serious, and three general in nature. The serious accident-related violations were cited for the employer’s failure to:
- Test the discharge piping prior to operating the Quincy 300 compressor and ensure proper connection
- Ensure a pressure relieving safety device was installed in the line between the compressor and block valve
- Ensure all pressure piping for the compressor was designed and fit in accordance with good engineering practice.
The serious violations were cited for the employer’s failure to ensure the energy within the pipeline system was controlled to prevent release during repair, and failure to ensure group lockout/tagout procedures were utilized and employees worked under supervision of a qualified person. The other citations were issued for violations related to uncertified employees welding, failure to establish hazardous energy control procedures and operating equipment under conditions of stress.
A serious violation is cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. Violations are classified as accident-related when the injury, illness or fatality is caused by the violation. Cal/OSHA has extensive information on lock out / tag out requirements
Cal/OSHA’s Pressure Vessel Unit
is responsible under Labor Code sections 7620-7771 for the permitting and inspection of boilers and tanks, including air compressors. All employers in California are required to have an effective written injury and illness prevention program, and a safety program to identify, assess and control hazards in the workplace. Cal/OSHA has online tools and publications
to guide employers on how to establish an effective safety program.
Lowe’s Stores in Oregon Fined $35,000 for COVID-19 Violations
Oregon OSHA has fined Lowe’s Home Improvement stores in Redmond and Albany more than $35,000 for violating standards designed to protect workers from the coronavirus disease. Both sites potentially exposed employees to the disease by willfully failing to ensure that all customers inside the retail stores wore a mask, face covering, or face shield to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The citations, totaling $35,600 in fines, resulted from inspections of the Southwest Canal Boulevard and Ninth Avenue Southeast locations in Redmond and Albany, respectively. The inspections were initiated in response to multiple complaints.
Through employer and employee interviews, and an examination of records, the inspections determined supervisors at the stores were fully aware of the requirement to ensure customer use of facial coverings and yet intentionally decided against carrying out their responsibilities.
The stores’ purposeful infractions illustrate failures to account for reasonable and established measures to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 through customer-to-employee transmission.
“It is not enough to leave the protection of employees in the hands of cooperative customers,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “As most employers recognize, they must take appropriate steps to ensure that the rules in place are actually followed. When an employer is not prepared to take such steps, we can and will use our enforcement tools to address the issue.”
Altogether, the inspections documented three violations of workplace health and safety standards at the Lowe’s in Redmond and one at the store in Albany. The citations and penalties – all issued under Oregon OSHA’s temporary rule
addressing COVID-19 risks in the workplace – were as follows:
- Both stores chose to disregard Oregon Health Authority requirements to ensure customers (older than age 5) who are inside the establishments wore a source control device, such as a mask, face covering, or face shield. Oregon OSHA issued willful citations, each carrying a $17,500 penalty.
- The Redmond store was also cited for two serious violations. The employer did not develop and implement a complete risk assessment to identify potential employee exposure to the virus. The employer also failed to develop and implement an infection control plan. A penalty of $300 was imposed for each violation.
10 Oregon Facilities Fined in March for Environmental Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued 10 penalties totaling $381,697 in March for various environmental violations. A detailed list of violations and resulting penalties is at https://ordeq.org/enforcement.
Fines ranged from $4,800 to $223,440. Alleged violations included illegal burning of prohibited material near the Umpqua River, discarding wastewater from a mine into the Burnt River, and discharging raw sewage into the Isthmus Slough—causing the closure of commercial oyster beds in Coos Bay.
DEQ issued civil penalties to the following organizations:
- Ayman Haswah, $20,736, Williams, stormwater
- BACH Land Development, $74,469, Medford, asbestos
- City of Adrian, $7,001, Adrian, wastewater
- JH Baxter, $223,440, Eugene, hazardous waste
- K&E Excavating Inc., $8,400, Hereford, wastewater
- Kruse Farms, Inc., $12,236, Roseburg, open burning
- Laskey-Clifton Corporation, $16,800, Reedsport, wastewater
- Lejar Enterprises LLC, $4,800, Tualatin, stormwater
- Steve Oien Construction, $7,815, Philomath, stormwater
- Thomson Equipment Co., $6,000, Portland, stormwater
Organizations or individuals must either pay the fines or file an appeal within 20 days of receiving notice of the penalty. They may be able to offset a portion of a penalty by funding a supplemental environmental project
that improves Oregon’s environment.
Penalties may also include orders requiring specific tasks to prevent ongoing violations or additional environmental harm.
Carbon Neutrality Studies Identify Potential Paths for California to Reach 2045 Goal
The California Environmental Protection Agency announced the release of two independent studies that identify strategies to support the state’s goal to dramatically reduce transportation fossil fuel demand and supply by 2045.
CalEPA contracted with the University of California Institute of Transportation Studies and the University of California Santa Barbara to conduct the studies. Both look at greenhouse gas emission (GHG) impacts of specific policy options, use equity and protection of public health as guiding principles and consider workforce impacts. The studies will inform decisions by policy makers, regulators and others regarding California’s path to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.
“Science and data-driven research are the bedrock of California’s environmental and climate leadership. California continues to deploy innovative solutions to meet our bold carbon neutrality goals and we value the work of accomplished University of California research teams and others to further guide the way,” said Governor Gavin Newsom.
Under the Governor’s leadership for a zero-emission transportation future, California was the first state to call for 100% zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) sales by 2035 in Executive Order N-79-20
. Along with the recently released ZEV Market Development Strategy
from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the studies released will help shape California’s approach to tackling the climate crisis. Specifically, both studies provide critical input into the state’s top priorities: climate, health, equity and jobs.
The studies will be considered as the California Air Resources Board launches the AB 32 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update
for achieving California’s carbon neutrality target, and as the California Geologic Energy Management Division updates its public health and safety protections for communities near oil and gas operations.
“These important studies provide California with a path for accelerating our actions across the board to drive our transportation emissions to zero, all while protecting public health and advancing environmental justice,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California’s Secretary for Environmental Protection. “These studies make clear that the race to a zero-emissions transportation future must be won if we are to avoid the harshest effects of climate change.”
Spice Importer Exposed Workers to Amputation, Struck-By, Crushed-By Hazards
When employers disregard safety measures and fail to properly supervise employees, the risks of serious injuries or illnesses increases – this is exactly the scenario that OSHA inspectors discovered during an investigation at iSpice LLC, a global spice importer, processor and supplier based in Jackson, Alabama. OSHA found workers exposed to amputation, struck-by, crushed-by and electrical hazards. The company faces $121,511 in penalties.
OSHA determined that the employer allowed workers to clean mixing machines without using a lockout device that prevents the machines from starting unexpectedly during service and maintenance. iSpice also failed to implement energy control procedures, train workers on lockout/tagout practices
and use machine guarding
to keep employees protected from a rotating portion of the mixer.
In addition, iSpice allowed workers to use powered industrial trucks with a damaged seatbelt – exposing them to struck-by and crushed by hazards – and failed to make sure the drivers were competent to operate the equipment. The employer also exposed workers to electrical hazards by allowing multiple boxes and outlets that were uncovered or lacked faceplates and used a fan with an exposed splice in the cord.
“This employer put their employees at serious risk needlessly by failing to provide training and implement well-known protections,” said OSHA Area Director Jose Gonzalez in Mobile, Alabama. “These protections are not optional, they are every workers right.”
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations
and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Excavation Company Agrees to Increase Employee Training on Dangerous Trenching Hazards Prior to 2021 Construction Season
Before they fill the first bucket of dirt this construction season, Wagner Construction Inc. will train employees on trenching and excavation hazards, develop detailed site-specific safety plans and has employed a full-time safety manager to protect workers from deadly excavation hazards.
Wagner Construction committed to changing its safety procedures and training in a comprehensive settlement agreement with OSHA following three North Dakota job site inspections in 2019 and 2020 that found employees of the company exposed to excavation hazards.
The agreement requires the Minnesota-based excavation company to pay a $380,000 penalty and to provide immediate training on trenching and excavation hazards to job site employees, managers and supervisors; hire a third-party safety consultant; provide OSHA with the addresses of all of its 2021 job sites to allow inspection for compliance with trenching standards; form a corporate safety committee; and address safety issues during weekly supervisor meetings. The company hired a full-time safety and compliance manager in July 2020 and has agreed to purchase new trench safety equipment this season.
“Excavation and trenching are some of the most hazardous operations in construction. OSHA worked with Wagner to address safety issues found on their North Dakota job sites,” said OSHA Area Director Scott Overson in Bismarck, North Dakota. “Preparing and executing job site safety plans that include sloping, shoring and shielding trenches can prevent cave-ins and worker injuries.”
North American Lighting Cited After Maintenance Technician Suffers Facial Burns
On Nov. 14, 2020, a master maintenance technician for a central Illinois lighting manufacturer suffered severe facial burns when pressurized material in a plastic molding machine exploded.
An OSHA investigation determined North American Lighting Inc. lacked energy control procedures to protect workers during maintenance work, a process known as lockout/tagout
. OSHA also found that the company failed to review and test its lockout/tagout procedures annually for effectiveness, and ensure employees used eye and face protection.
OSHA cited the company for one repeat violation and three serious violations of machine safety standards and requirements for personal protective equipment. The agency cited the company for similar violations in 2019 at the same facility and proposed $85,826 in penalties. Lack of machine safety procedures is the fourth most frequently cited
“Employers must ensure that machines and equipment are disabled before workers perform service and maintenance to prevent unexpected startup or release of hazardous energy and materials,” said OSHA Area Director Barry Salerno in Peoria, Illinois. “If North American Lighting took the time to implement and test the safety procedures, this serious injury could have been prevented.”
A subsidiary of the Koito Group of Tokyo, North American Lighting Inc. manufactures automotive lighting systems at eight facilities nationwide.
California to Phase Out Oil Fracking
California Governor Gavin Newsom directed the State Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management (CalGEM) Division to initiate regulatory action to end the issuance of new permits for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by January 2024. Additionally, Governor Newsom requested that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) analyze pathways to phase out oil extraction across the state by no later than 2045.
“The climate crisis is real, and we continue to see the signs every day,” said Governor Newsom. “As we move to swiftly decarbonize our transportation sector and create a healthier future for our children, I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil.”
Under the directive, CalGEM will immediately initiate the rulemaking to halt the issuance of new hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024.
Under Governor Newsom’s direction, CARB will evaluate how to phase out oil extraction by 2045 through the Climate Change scoping plan
, the state’s comprehensive, multi-year regulatory and programmatic plan to achieve required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Inclusion of the target in the Scoping Plan means that phasing out oil extraction becomes a part of California’s blueprint to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045. CARB will evaluate economic, environmental and health benefits and effects of eliminating oil extraction. CARB’s scoping plan process will be informed by cross-sector collaboration and public input focusing on benefits in disadvantaged communities, opportunities for job creation and economic growth as we achieve carbon neutrality.
In advance of the phase-out of fracking in 2024, CalGEM’s process for reviewing permits for this practice is the most stringent in the country, and includes input from experts at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. More on the permit review process is available here.
Permit approvals and resulting hydraulic fracturing activity are at the lowest level since the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 4 in 2014 to strengthen regulation of hydraulic fracturing.
In addition to instituting more rigorous review of hydraulic fracturing permit applications, CalGEM continues to operationalize its updated mandate to protect public health and the environment. This includes:
- Developing a new health and safety regulation to protect workers and communities near oil fields.
- Implementing new regulations that prohibit surface expressions and placing a moratorium on high-pressure cyclic steam injection, which has been linked to surface expressions.
- Integrating independent experts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Finance’s Office of State Audits and Evaluations to recommend further improvements to CalGEM’s permitting process.
- Increasing financial bonding requirements on oil companies to ensure adequate closure of defunct wells and clean-up of inactive oil fields.
Earlier this week, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced the release of two independent studies
that identify strategies to support the state’s goal to dramatically reduce transportation fossil fuel demand and supply by 2045. The studies analyze the health and safety impacts associated with pollution originating from the extraction and processing of oil and will inform CARB’s scoping plan.
These actions build on the Governor’s September 2020 executive order
, which called for an end to fracking and to accelerate California’s transition away from gasoline-powered cars and trucks and reduce demand for fossil fuels. The order also directed agencies to:
- Develop and implement a just transition roadmap.
- Propose strategies to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels beyond 2030 with consideration of the full life cycle of carbon.
- Expedite regulatory processes to repurpose and transition upstream and downstream oil production facilities, while supporting community participation, labor standards and protection of public health, safety and the environment.
$4 Million to Resolve Hazardous Waste, Oil Spill Contamination
"Too many of New York's communities still struggle with pollution resulting from a legacy of environmental abuse, neglect, and injustice," said Attorney General James. "Through our action here, we are recouping $4 million, which will be essential to eliminating a long-standing site of contamination in the heart of the greater Buffalo community. My office is committed to holding polluters accountable, and protecting the health and safety of all New Yorkers, as well as our state's environment."
"This agreement ensures the company responsible for contaminating the Tonawanda Forge site will pay their share of the cleanup costs," said DEC Commissioner Seggos. "I thank Governor Cuomo for his sustained commitment to ensuring the clean-up of former industrial sites like this one, and the Attorney General, her team, and my staff who worked to recoup New York state's costs to remediate the former Tonawanda Forge site. Working together, we are sending a strong message to polluters that they will be held to account for the damage they cause to the environment and our communities."
Over the years, a number of soil, sediment, groundwater, and surface water sampling investigations of the Tonawanda Forge site have found the presence of asbestos; petroleum in soils; and hazardous substances - including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, heavy metals (such as lead and arsenic), volatile organic compounds, and semi-volatile organic compounds - at and around the site. Some of this contamination was found at levels exceeding state cleanup standards designed to protect public health and the environment.
General Motors (GM) began manufacturing axles, tie-rods, and other automobile parts at the approximately 33-acre Tonawanda Forge site in the 1950s. In 1994, GM sold the site to American Axle, which operated the site until 2008. American Axle used the same production processes as GM, producing similar parts and generating similar by-products. Logs show that - at least since the early 1990s and into the mid-2000s - the processes GM and American Axle utilized involved use of the hazardous substances found through sampling investigations at the site. An investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) uncovered evidence that both GM and American Axle had mishandled hazardous wastes and allowed spilled chemicals to leak into the ground through cracks in concrete floors.
In 2008, American Axle sold the Tonawanda Forge site to Lewis Brothers, a scrapper that partially dismantled the site. American Axle also removed some of its equipment after 2008, as part of an agreement with Lewis Brothers. During the removal of the equipment at the site, Lewis Brothers caused petroleum contamination and a PCB oil spill.
Earlier this month, OAG filed an action in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York against American Axle under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The action sought recovery of past and future costs associated with hazardous waste cleanup of the former Tonawanda Forge site. In 2017, OAG filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County against American Axle and Lewis Brothers seeking recovery of costs incurred by the state in cleaning up and removing the petroleum contamination at the site.
The agreement, and the federal district court consent decree with American Axle address the company's liability under CERCLA for the hazardous waste cleanup and damages to natural resources at the former Tonawanda Forge site. The company has agreed to pay the state $3.6 million to resolve this matter, which will be directed to the DEC's Hazardous Waste Remedial fund to support the cleanup of this and other hazardous waste sites in the state. The agreement also references the settlement of the oil spill cost recovery action taken against American Axle for $425,000 - funds that will be deposited in the state's Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation (Oil Spill) Fund. OAG and American Axle expect to discontinue the lawsuit over the oil spill upon OAG's receipt of this payment. Additionally, American Axle has agreed to pay $25,000 for damages to natural resources, which will be deposited in the DEC's Natural Resources Damages Fund.
"Today's announcement reaffirms the fact that polluters will be held accountable for their actions and corporations must always take responsibility for any environmental damage that they cause in our communities," said State Senator Sean Ryan. "I thank Attorney General Letitia James and the Department of Environmental Conservation for securing this compensation to remedy the longstanding hazardous waste contamination at the former Tonawanda Forge site. The funding from this agreement will be used to clean up the Tonawanda Forge site and other contaminated sites, to protect the health and safety of the people of Western New York and our entire state. This funding will be instrumental in combating the long-term impact of pollution and rehabilitating the site so that it will no longer be a blight on the Town of Tonawanda."
"Western New York has long been the victim of legacy pollution, and all too often, cleanup largely becomes the financial burden of the taxpayers - the same residents who suffer the effects of said pollution. Remediation of sites like the former Tonawanda Forge is costly but necessary work, not only for the health and well-being of the public but for the future economic development of our region," said State Assemblymember Bill Conrad. "I applaud Attorney General James and Commissioner Seggos for their successful effort to recoup $4 million from American Axle for the cleanup of a sprawling property in the Town of Tonawanda's main industrial zone. Thanks to this consent decree, liability for its contamination has been assigned appropriately, as the responsibility of a primary polluter."
Centurion Medical Sterilizing Facility Cited for Elevated Levels of Ethylene Oxide
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) issued an air quality violation notice related to public health to Centurion Medical Products in Howell after air sampling around its facility found unsafe levels of ethylene oxide emissions.
Centurion, owned by Medline Industries, Inc., uses ethylene oxide gas to sterilize equipment used in the healthcare industry. The gas has been determined to be a human carcinogen by the EPA.
Following a request in January by the EPA to review ethylene oxide information submitted by Centurion, EGLE determined that further investigation was warranted. EGLE conducted an initial round of air sampling to further evaluate ethylene oxide emissions Centurion's facility. The samples were collected over a 24-hour period from March 29-30. The results found ethylene oxide at concentrations above acceptable health screening levels for long-term exposure.
The violation notice instructs Centurion to evaluate possible next steps to reduce ethylene oxide emissions and outdoor air exposures. Additionally, Centurion must supply information about how its sterilization process is maintained and how the company will meet its health-based permitted limits and comply with all aspects of its air permit
. EGLE will review and approve all responses and actions proposed by the company to ensure nearby residents remain safe.
At very high levels in the air, ethylene oxide can cause immediate health effects, like headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and respiratory irritation. Based on the levels observed around Centurion, immediate health effects are unlikely to occur. Based on occupational (workplace) studies in humans and in animal studies, prolonged high-level exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risks for developing lymphoid cancers (including multiple myeloma, leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and breast cancer in females. To help ensure that public health is protected, EGLE restricts emissions of ethylene oxide and other air pollutants when it issues air permits to companies.
EGLE plans follow-up air sampling this year and results will be posted to Michigan.gov/EGLECenturion
, which includes additional information and resources. EGLE is working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Livingston County Health Department on public outreach efforts to inform area residents about the emissions, with details of a May public meeting to be announced soon.
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