May 04, 2020
EPA and the CDC have released updated guidance
to help facility operators and families properly clean and disinfect spaces. Developed in concert with the White House, the guidance provides step-by-step instructions for public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools, and homes, and falls in line with the Opening up America Again guidelines
“These guidelines will provide all Americans with information they need to help the country reopen as safely as possible,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These cleaning and disinfecting protocols will help ensure the health and safety of everyone in our homes, schools, offices and businesses.”
“Proper and effective cleaning and disinfecting are important to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. “As our nation re-opens, this guidance is critical to help Americans return as safely as possible to work, school, and other daily activities within their communities.”
EPA’s expertise on the safe and effective use of disinfectants against the virus that causes COVID-19 informed the development of this comprehensive plan. The guidance offers a practical, three-step process for preparing spaces for reopening:
- Develop a plan,
- Implement the plan, and
- Maintain and revise the plan.
Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces is an important, two-step process central to any effort to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- Clean: Use soap and water to remove germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It lowers the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfect: Use disinfectant products to kill germs on surfaces. By killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
EPA has compiled a list of disinfectant
products, including ready-to-use sprays, concentrates, and wipes, that can be used against COVID-19. Always follow the product label instructions and safety information including leaving the product on the surface long enough to kill germs, rinsing off the product to avoid ingesting it, and putting the product out of reach of children right away.
Also, avoid over-using or stockpiling disinfectants or personal protective equipment (such as gloves). This can result in shortages of critical products needed for emergencies. In the event that disinfectant products on the EPA list are not available, the guidance provides other techniques for disinfecting surfaces that are as effective in reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
This guidance does not replace other measures that still need to be taken to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. It is important to continue to practice social distancing, wear cloth face coverings, and wash your hands frequently.
Safely Get Your EHS Training at Home or in Your Office
To help you get the training you need, Environmental Resource Center has added a number of dates to our already popular live webcast training. Stay in compliance and learn the latest regulations from the comfort of your office or home. Webcast attendees receive the same benefits as our seminar attendees including expert instruction, comprehensive course materials, one year of access to our AnswerlineTM
service, course certificate, and a personalized user portal on Environmental Resource Center’s website.
Upcoming hazardous waste and DOT hazardous materials webcasts:
New Guidance for the Safe Packaging and Transportation of COVID-19 Materials
Infectious substances, such as certain COVID-19 tainted materials, can pose a risk to health, safety, and property if packaged and transported incorrectly. When transporting such materials, it is extremely important to follow the Department of Transportation’s PHMSA’s Hazardous Materials Regulations to help minimize risk and exposure.
To assist medical facilities, clinical laboratories, and hazardous waste carriers in their efforts to move COVID-19 specimens, cultures, isolates, and medical wastes, the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) developed a COVID-19 Quick Reference
web page that provides guidance on how to package and transport these materials safely.
Environmental Resource Center Update
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have combined our Safety and Environmental Tips of the week. This issue includes some of the latest recommendations for you to keep safe at work and at home in this evolving event.
The health and wellbeing of our employees, customers and our communities is what matters most to all of us. To continue serve you, our seminars have been converted to live online webcasts. You can find a list of upcoming live webcasts at this link
If you have enrolled in a seminar in May or June in many cases the seminar will be held on approximately the same dates and at the same times via online webcast. We will contact you by phone or email regarding the details on how to attend the class. On-site training and consulting services are proceeding as usual. If you wish to convert these to remote services, please call your Environmental Resource Center representative or customer service at 800-537-2372.
Because many of our live and on-site training sessions have been postponed or canceled, we have staff available to assist you in coping with COVID-19 as well as your routine EHS requirements. If you have EHS staff that have been quarantined, we can provide remote assistance to help you meet your ongoing environmental and safety compliance requirements. For details, call 800-537-2372.
EPA Settlement with American Zinc Recycling to Reduce Air Pollution in Chicago
“This settlement is a good example of how EPA through our National Compliance Initiative is bringing cleaner air to communities across the country,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “This settlement will improve air quality for residents of Chicago by reducing emissions of particulate matter by approximately 164 tons a year.”
“American Zinc Recycling has agreed to improve its operations to address these issues and to reduce air pollution,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede. “EPA is committed to improving air quality throughout Chicago, especially in areas that are already overburdened by pollution.”
American Zinc Recycling, at 2701 E 114th St. in Chicago, recycles metal-bearing wastes from steel production to reclaim zinc and other metals. EPA observed particulate emissions and fugitive dust from American Zinc Recycling’s operations during inspections of the facility in alleged violation of particulate matter limits in the Illinois’ State Implementation Plan, the Clean Air Act and American Zinc Recycling’s Title V permit issued by the State of Illinois. The facility is located on the Calumet River in the Southeast Side of Chicago, where the federal, state, and local government have worked with community groups to reduce pollution from other facilities.
Under the terms of the settlement, American Zinc Recycling will invest approximately $8 million to bring the facility back into compliance with its emissions limits, with improved capture and collection systems for particulate matter and dust. The company will also pay a $530,000 penalty.
Particulate matter is defined as a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Breathing air with high levels of particulate matter has been linked to heart and respiratory problems. Reducing particulate matter means cleaner, healthier air for all Chicagoans.
The settlement terms are included in a proposed consent decree filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. To view the government’s complaint and the consent decree, go to https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees
New Applications Required for Permits and Water Quality Certification in KY
A federal judge’s order will require Kentucky cities, counties and any utility industries performing construction, maintenance, repair and removal of utility lines to submit applications for individual permits and state water quality certifications.
A federal court judge for the U.S. District Court for the District Of Montana has ordered the Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) to halt its Nationwide Permit #12 process for pipeline and power line projects over federally protected waters. The order also voids the use of the Kentucky Division of Water’s corresponding general certification.
Prior to the order, minor utility repairs and activities could be performed by complying with the provisions of the Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting and Kentucky’s General Certification process.
Any utility activities regarding pipelines for gas, liquid, liquescent, or slurry substance and transmission cable, lines or wires will now require submitted applications for Section 401 water quality certification to the Division of Water and will require at least a 30-day waiting period for public notices.
Work From Home Tips from the Louisiana DEQ
Due to the COVID-19 pandamic, many are telecommuting and spending more time with family. We can take this time to continue promoting the protection of our environment. The following conservation practices were recommended by the DEQ that will help us be environmentally friendly during this trying time:
- Don’t flush anything down your toilet other than toilet paper. Flushing anything else risks causing a severe stoppage for your treatment system.
- If you run out of bathroom tissue and must use baby wipes or other paper products, dispose of those properly in your regular trash instead of flushing them.
- While at home, strive for energy conservation. Turn off lights in rooms not in use, save on gas by not driving unnecessarily and monitor any non-essential consumption of water.
- Take this time to check your house for energy efficiency. Check and clean your heating/air unit and vents. Ensure your windows and doors are sealed properly.
- Cut your grass and fuel your car after 6 p.m. to prevent ozone pollution. Limit any outside-the-home errands and group those errands into a single trip.
- Keep recycling on your mind as you go through canned goods and paper waste. Cut down on the stress on landfills by diverting your aluminum, metal, paper and plastic discards to the recycle bin.
- For those with gardens, spring is here, and it’s a great opportunity to use your free time to plant a victory garden and possibly tidy up that flower bed. Since trips to the grocery store have become difficult, consider sprucing up your garden. It can be a free source of fresh fruits and vegetables for your next healthy meal or snack.
- When shopping, make a single trip and shop for your neighbors and loved ones, when possible. Since we have to maintain six-feet apart for social distancing, we can still take this opportunity to help each other and save on gas as well as time out on the road.
- Clear out your neighborhood storm drains and make sure they’re free of any debris or anything that could form a clog.
- Gather up used books, clothing, toys, furniture and items you no longer need to donate. Before you take your donation, contact the charity to be sure they are accepting donations, where you can drop them off and during what hours. Many are not accepting donations and others have different times and places. Have any clothing you plan to discard? Find someone who can sew and convert those fashions into masks that can be donated to area hospitals and medical clinics that are in need of extra cloth masks.
- If you plan to fire up the grill or BBQ, consider using rolled newspaper under your briquettes in lieu of dousing those briquettes directly with lighter fluid. Simply lighting the rolled paper serves as a more environmentally friendly way of cutting down on the release of lighter fluid-produced toxins into the air – not to mention the infusion of those chemicals into your cooked burgers and hot dogs.
- Be a good steward of the environment while out fishing. Practice environmentally safe fishing practices: clean up and properly dispose of any fishing lines and rubbish.
- Working from home and spending less time in your vehicle can be a positive change with gas savings and cutting down on air emissions. Consider walking or riding a bicycle for local errands and exercise to break up your daily routine. In the future, when you resume normal activities, you’ll be familiar with using alternative modes of travel – and can continue incorporating walking/bicycling to exercise and run those errands.
Steps to Address Stagnant Water in Buildings
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is encouraging facilities that have been vacant for an extended period to use guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure optimal water quality in buildings.
“As Tennesseans return to buildings that have been unoccupied during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize that water quality in those buildings can be affected by lack of use,” TDEC Commissioner David Salyers said. “We advocate guidelines, such as flushing water systems, that are designed to address this issue.”
When buildings are vacant for extended periods, stagnation of the water in the pipes can result in deteriorated water quality, such as the loss of disinfectant residual, increased disinfection by-products, microbial growth such as Legionella, and increases in metals such as lead. When water service is returned to a building after an extended period of non-use, it is important to address the stagnant water in the building’s plumbing to ensure safe drinking water.
The CDC has published measures to help minimize the risk of diseases associated with water that has likely become stagnant in many buildings. They include:
- Develop a comprehensive water management program for your water system, including steps to prevent Legionnaire’s Disease
- Ensure your water heater is properly maintained and the temperature is correctly set
- Flush your water system
- Clean all decorative water features, such as fountains
- Ensure hot tubs and spas are safe
- Ensure cooling towers are clean and well-maintained
- Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eye wash stations, and safety showers are cleaned and well-maintained
- Maintain your water system
Additional resources can be found at the following links:
Oklahoma DEQ Recommends Flushing Water Lines Prior to Re-Opening Businesses
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality recommends Oklahoma’s businesses closed for prolonged periods of time to flush water lines. As many buildings have had little to no occupancy during the past few weeks, the quality of water in plumbing may have degraded.
DEQ encouraged businesses to run hot water at every tap for several minutes then run cold water at every tap for several minutes. Consider draining water heaters followed by running the water at every tap once the hot water heater has refilled. Contact a licensed plumber if unsure of your building’s water quality.
The Best Material for Homemade Face Masks May Be a Combination of Two Fabrics
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks in public. Because N95 and surgical masks are scarce and should be reserved for health care workers, many people are making their own coverings. Now, researchers report in ACS Nano
that a combination of cotton with natural silk or chiffon can effectively filter out aerosol particles — if the fit is good.
SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is thought to spread mainly through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or breathes. These droplets form in a wide range of sizes, but the tiniest ones, called aerosols, can easily slip through the openings between certain cloth fibers, leading some people to question whether cloth masks can actually help prevent disease. Therefore, Supratik Guha at the University of Chicago and colleagues wanted to study the ability of common fabrics, alone or in combination, to filter out aerosols similar in size to respiratory droplets.
The researchers used an aerosol mixing chamber to produce particles ranging from 10 nm to 6 μm in diameter. A fan blew the aerosol across various cloth samples at an airflow rate corresponding to a person’s respiration at rest, and the team measured the number and size of particles in air before and after passing through the fabric. One layer of a tightly woven cotton sheet combined with two layers of polyester-spandex chiffon — a sheer fabric often used in evening gowns — filtered out the most aerosol particles (80–99%, depending on particle size), with performance close to that of an N95 mask material. Substituting the chiffon with natural silk or flannel, or simply using a cotton quilt with cotton-polyester batting, produced similar results. The researchers point out that tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton, can act as a mechanical barrier to particles, whereas fabrics that hold a static charge, like certain types of chiffon and natural silk, serve as an electrostatic barrier. However, a 1% gap reduced the filtering efficiency of all masks by half or more, emphasizing the importance of a properly fitted mask.
OSHA and CDC Interim Guidance to Protect Workers in Meatpacking and Processing Industries
OSHA and the CDC have released
joint coronavirus-related interim guidance for meatpacking and meat processing workers and employers – including those involved in beef, pork and poultry operations. The guidance includes recommended actions employers can take to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
“As essential workers, those in the meatpacking and processing industries need to be protected from coronavirus for their own safety and health,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA's newest guidance document outlines steps employers can take to provide a safe and healthy workplace for workers in the meatpacking and processing industries.”
The coronavirus has affected many meat and poultry processing facility workers in plants in several U.S. states. While the meat products these workers handle do not expose them to the coronavirus, close contact with coworkers and supervisors may contribute to their potential exposures.
The interim guidance from OSHA and the CDC includes information regarding:
- Cleaning of shared meatpacking and processing tools;
- Screening employees for the coronavirus before they enter work facilities;
- Managing workers who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus;
- Implementing appropriate engineering, administrative, and work practice controls;
- Using appropriate personal protective equipment; and
- Practicing social distancing at the workplace.
Increased Illegal Dumping Amid Covid-19
The Washington Department of Ecology’s spill responders are seeing an increase in the number of illegal dumpings of chemicals and other waste. While many collection sites are closed due to COVID-19, Ecology is reminding everyone not to dump household waste. Abandoning chemical waste can have lasting effects on human health and the environment.
Waste oil, paint, household chemicals or other hazardous materials should be safely stored until waste collection facilities reopen. For a list of facilities that will accept waste from households and businesses, visit Ecology’s website.
Abandoned waste can impact plants, fish, surface water, groundwater, recreational areas and drinking water sources. One quart of oil can pollute more than 100,000 gallons of water.
“We typically don’t see blatant abandonment of these products in our parks and public areas, but it’s been happening recently,” said Dave Byers, response section manager with Ecology’s Spills Program. “Damage to our environment can be avoided with people taking the proper steps to dispose of these chemicals. Doing otherwise puts people and our environment in jeopardy, and can result in penalties to those responsible. Please do not dump these hazardous materially illegally.”
If you find abandoned hazardous material, or want to report a spill in Washington, you can report it on Ecology’s reporting page, or call 1-800-OILS-911.
OSHA Safety Alert for Restaurant, Food and Beverage Businesses Providing Curbside Pickup and Takeout Service
OSHA has issued an alert with safety tips for restaurant, and food and beverage businesses to protect their workers from coronavirus exposure while they provide curbside pickup and takeout service.
OSHA recommends these businesses implement the following:
- Reserve parking spaces near the front door for curbside pickup only;
- Avoid direct hand-off, when possible;
- Display a door or sidewalk sign with the services available (e.g., take-out, curbside), instructions for pickup, and hours of operation;
- Practice sensible social distancing by maintaining 6 feet between co-workers and customers. Mark 6-foot distances with floor tape in pickup lines, encourage customers to pay ahead of time by phone or online, temporarily move workstations to create more distance and install plexiglass partitions, if feasible.
- Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent them from spreading the virus
- Provide a place to wash hands and stations with alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns.
Utah Division of Waste Management Cancels Hazardous Waste Generator Training
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control has canceled the Hazardous Waste Generator Training that was scheduled for May this year. You can still get your training online, for details click here
ADEM, Health Department Warn Reopening Businesses to Thoroughly Flush Water System to Guard Against Legionnaires and Other Diseases
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Alabama Department of Public Health issued a joint statement urging businesses that are reopening after the easing of coronavirus restrictions to thoroughly flush and inspect their water and air conditioning systems to avoid creating other potentially deadly health hazards – Legionnaires’ disease and other bacterial infections.
Legionnaires’ disease is a serious, sometimes fatal type of lung infection, or pneumonia, caused by Legionella bacteria. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water containing Legionella. The bacteria grow in warm water and can be found in shower heads and faucets, hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, decorative fountains or plumbing systems in large buildings.
The CDC says more than 6,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease are reported in the U.S. each year, and that one in 10 people who get sick from the infection will die. It is generally not contagious from person-to-person.
On Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a “Safer at Home” order that will allow some businesses, including retail stores, to reopen. Those businesses must adhere to social-distancing and sanitation rules. Other nonessential businesses such as dine-in restaurant service, barber shops and hair salons must still remain closed at least for now in the continuing effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
“We have a lot of businesses that are preparing to reopen this week,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said. “This is certainly good for those businesses and the state’s economy. As they reopen, however, we strongly encourage them to take extra care to make sure they do so in an environmentally safe manner. We ask that they pay particular attention to their water and air-handling systems, which if contaminated with certain bacteria can lead to harmful health effects, not the least of which is Legionnaires’ disease.
“We want the environment in which Alabamians work and recreate, whether outdoors or inside, to be as safe as possible.”
Dr. Karen Landers, District Medical Officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the public can’t afford to ignore other potential health threats during the coronavirus crisis.
"While much attention continues to be focused on COVID-19 in Alabama, promotion and protection of the public's health include prevention of other diseases as well,” Dr. Landers said. “The Alabama Department of Public Health reminds the public that information related to building maintenance, such as standing water, which may have occurred during prolonged closure, can have health implications. Illnesses such
as Legionella can occur when water stands at certain temperatures and the disinfectant measures such as chlorination can be decreased.
“ADPH joins with ADEM in recommending that businesses follow current guidance from CDC to reduce the risk of waterborne illness as operations resume."
Legionnaires’ disease first made headlines in the U.S. in 1976, when attendees at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia fell ill to the not-well-known form of pneumonia, and public health officials scrambled to find the cause of the disease outbreak. They eventually determined the illness was caused by bacteria that had been breeding in the cooling tower of the hotel’s air-conditioning system and spread throughout the hotel. It sickened 221 people, of which 34 died.
Lynn Battle, chief of the Office of External Affairs at ADEM, pointed out that the Legionella bacteria occur naturally in freshwater environments, and can grow and spread in man-made water systems. Symptoms of the disease can appear within a few hours to three days after exposure and include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches.
“A recent notable case in the Southeast occurred in the summer of 2019,” she said. “Twelve confirmed cases of the Legionnaires’ disease, including one death, and 61 other probable cases were identified among guests who attended a convention at a hotel in downtown Atlanta.”
Battle said information for reopening businesses with steps to take to make sure their water and air-handling systems are safe after a prolonged closure are available on the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/building-water-system.html. The recently issued guidelines include eight recommended steps, and covers flushing and maintaining water systems, cleaning water fixtures, and cleaning and maintaining water towers, water heaters, tubs/spas, showers and fire sprinkler systems.
Battle said flushing water lines would also help remove any trace amounts of lead, which could have accumulated when the water system wasn’t in use.
New Recycling Method Could Make Polyurethane Sustainable
Polyurethanes (PUs) are used in many products, such as mattresses, insulation, footwear and construction materials. Wear and replacement of these products generates lots of waste and creates demand for new PUs, often made from toxic building blocks. A few methods have attempted to recycle PU waste, but these techniques result in lower-value products. Now, researchers report in ACS Central Science
a way to recycle used PU into equivalent or even higher-value items.
Conventional PU can’t be recycled simply by heating because it consists of polymer networks held together by strong chemical bonds that don’t flow when heated. Instead, PU can only be downcycled into less useful materials. Some research groups have made new types of PU with crosslinks that can be broken and reformed in response to a stimulus, allowing it to be recycled. But this approach would require the industry to commercialize new starting materials, and it wouldn’t address the issue of conventional waste lingering in landfills. Also, these methods haven’t been tested on foams, the form in which most PU is used in products. Another research group developed a way to recycle conventional polyester or modified PU by soaking it in a catalyst solution that enabled the material to be re-shaped into similar- or higher-valued products. William Dichtel and colleagues wanted to explore this concept further by using different crosslink exchange chemistry and coupling it with industrially relevant processing techniques to recycle conventional PU foams into rubber and hard plastic.
To do this, the team started by grinding up PU foam or film and mixing the particles in a catalyst solution. After drying, the particles were compression molded to form new films. Compression molded films formed good-quality products, but foam treated in this way produced cracked and inhomogeneous materials. The researchers solved this problem by developing a twin-screw extrusion process that improved mixing and air removal in recycled foams, compared to the compression molding approach. They say this new method could be used for continuous recycling of the large amounts of PU waste currently landfilled or newly produced.
The authors declare the following competing financial interests: Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota and Cornell University have filed a patent application related to the findings described in this manuscript.
The authors acknowledged funding from the National Science Foundation via the Center for Sustainable Polymers.
Sensitive New Test Detects Antibodies Against SARS-Cov-2 In Only 10 Minutes
As the COVID-19 curve shows signs of flattening in the U.S. and elsewhere, public health officials are trying to grasp just how many people have been infected. Now, a proof-of-concept study in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry
describes a quick, sensitive test for antibodies against the coronavirus in human blood. The test could help doctors track a person’s exposure to the disease, as well as confirm suspected COVID-19 cases that tested negative by other methods.
Because COVID-19 symptoms range from mild to severe, with some people apparently having no symptoms, the number of people who have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus at some point is likely much higher than the number of confirmed cases. As U.S. states begin to ease lockdown restrictions, widespread testing of the general population will be important to identify people at early stages of disease, or people who lack symptoms but can still infect others. Also, although more research needs to be done, it is possible that people with antibodies to the virus could be immune to future COVID-19 outbreaks. To help identify people with current or past exposure to SARS-CoV-2, Lei Yu, Yingsong Wu, Guanfeng Lin and colleagues wanted to develop a fast, sensitive antibody test.
The researchers based their test on a technique called a lateral flow immunoassay (LFA); a home pregnancy test is an example of this kind of assay. They attached a viral coat protein to a specific region on a strip of nitrocellulose, and then added human serum. The serum flowed from one end of the strip to the other, and any antibodies against the viral protein bound to that region on the strip. Then, the team detected the anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies with a fluorescently labeled antibody. This fluorescence-based detection is much more sensitive than some other LFAs, such as pregnancy tests, that can be read by the naked eye. The researchers tested the new assay on seven serum samples from COVID-19 patients and 12 samples from people who had tested negative for the disease by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), a common diagnostic test that occasionally fails to detect positive cases. The new assay correctly diagnosed all seven samples as positive — as well as an additional “negative” case that had suspicious clinical symptoms — in only 10 minutes per sample. The immunoassay could be helpful in confirming negative diagnoses, monitoring a patient’s recovery, studying past exposures, and identifying recovered individuals with high levels of antibodies as potential convalescent plasma donors, the researchers say.
The authors acknowledged funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation.
OSHA Programs to Help American Workers and Employers During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor took a range of actions to aid American workers and employers as our nation combats the coronavirus pandemic.
The department continued its efforts to keep America’s workers safe, support states and territories as they deliver unemployment benefits to eligible individuals, and ensure all workers have access to new paid leave benefits. By the end of the week, 48 states and territories were providing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s enhanced $600 additional weekly benefit. OSHA continued its efforts to enforce workplace protection laws and provide clear guidance to employers on how to protect workers from the coronavirus. Its Wage and Hour Division announced enforcement action resulting in back pay for an employee denied the paid sick leave entitled to him under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
During a call with state and local officials and stakeholders, U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia remarked, “There are reasons for optimism. This economic pause is short term, not caused by any fundamental economic weakness, but by a purposeful idling of economic activity. Last week, President Trump introduced a thoughtful blueprint for reopening our economy. That plan puts forward a disciplined, scientific approach for States and locales to reopen for business as it’s safe to do so. Together with the unprecedented relief bills signed by the President, the reopening plan helps position us to regain our economic footing and start the return to normal life.”
Engaging Stakeholders Across the Globe and Here at Home:
- Secretary Scalia Participates in Call with the National Association of Counties – On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, Secretary Scalia, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) John Pallasch and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Administrator Cheryl Stanton joined the National Association of Counties to provide an update to their members on the department’s resources and answer questions about the status of unemployment insurance and new paid leave benefits.
- U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia Joins Special G20 Meeting on COVID-19 – Secretary Scalia participated in a virtual meeting of the G20 Labor and Employment Ministers to discuss the G20 members’ labor and employment response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Secretary remarked in the meeting, “As we look forward, following this period of exceptional and essential government intervention, we in the States will bear in mind also the policies underlying the robust economy we have recently enjoyed. Those were policies that recognized the value of free markets and free people.”
- State and Local Officials and Stakeholders Call – Secretary Scalia, Assistant Secretary Pallasch, Administrator Cheryl Stanton and OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt participated in a call with state and local legislators and stakeholders to discuss the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Keeping America’s Workplaces Safe and Healthy:
On Unemployment Insurance:
- Statement by Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia on Unemployment Insurance Claims – Secretary Scalia issued a statement regarding Unemployment Insurance claims, stating, “The Department of Labor is continuing to provide guidance and support to the States as they implement the enhanced unemployment benefits under the CARES Act.”
- Partnering with State Workforce Unemployment Insurance Directors – Secretary Scalia joined a call hosted by ETA with State Workforce Unemployment Insurance directors this week as 53 States and Territories have received more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in funding to upgrade their computer systems and add staff to manage the surge of claims.
Defending Workers’ Rights to Paid Leave
New Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act Frequently Asked Questions
- WARN FAQs – The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act is enforced by private legal action in the applicable U.S. District Court. The role of the U.S. Department of Labor is to provide guidance and information about the WARN Act; however, such guidance is not binding in the courts and does not replace the advice of an attorney.
New Mexico Environment Department COVID Guidance for the Oil and Gas Industry
In response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 public health crisis, the New Mexico Environment Department offered air quality regulatory guidance to the oil and gas industry to ensure the continued protection of human health and the environment.
The guidance, addresses the following topics: permitting and the electronic submission of documents, extensions related to certain activities like testing and reporting, and non-compliance stemming from COVID-19 and the Department’s planned enforcement response under the federal Clean Air Act and the state Air Quality Control Act. NMED has been delegated authority to administer the portions of the Clean Air Act in New Mexico.
“The pandemic has presented challenges for both the regulated community and environmental regulators,”said NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney.“We are absolutely committed to striking a balance that takes these hurdles into account while maintaining compliance with state and federal laws.”
The guidance covers:
Permitting: NMED is now accepting electronic permit applications and other required documentation. Hard copies are still being accepted.
Extensions: NMED will evaluate requests for extensions for performance testing, monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements on a case-by-case basis. NMED will not provide industry-wide extensions or waivers to existing permits or rules.
Inspections: During the Public Health Emergency, NMED will not routinely perform in-person air quality inspections. However, NMED may elect to conduct targeted, field-based investigations if warranted. Operators are reminded that they are responsible for monitoring the compliance status of their facilities and should disclose possible violations at the earliest opportunity.
Enforcement: Owners or operators claiming that the COVID-19 public health emergency directly or indirectly caused or contributed to a violation must meet certain conditions. NMEDwill evaluate such claims on a case-by-case basis under NMED’s existing regulations and policies to determine what enforcement relief, if any, is warranted.
: NMED will continue to use its methane
map to provide the public information on its enforcement response to substantiated claims related to COVID-19.
New Mexico’s COVID-19
website includes related guidance for other employers and industries.
New Hampshire Rules on Toxic “Forever Chemicals” Supported by Environmental Groups in Landmark State Supreme Court Case
Supporting the state’s effort to protect public health from highly toxic “forever chemicals,” Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed a brief
in a landmark PFAS case in New Hampshire’s Supreme Court. 3M is challenging the state’s new rules establishing drinking water standards for the toxic chemicals.
“3M is fighting to keep New Hampshire residents in the dark about the harm they’re facing from the corporation’s toxic ‘forever chemicals.’ These dangerous compounds have been linked to cancer of the kidneys and testicles and harm to pregnant moms and infants at extremely low levels of exposure. It’s intolerable that the polluter 3M is adding insult to injury by seeking to block the state’s effort to protect its residents from the chemicals 3M unleashed into our homes and bodies,” said Erik D. Olson, NRDC’s senior strategic director of health and food.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances include suspected carcinogens and have been linked to a variety of severe health problems including learning disorders in infants and children, fertility and pregnancy issues and impaired liver, thyroid and pancreatic function. It’s estimated that almost every American has at least one of these substances in their blood.
“The rules are designed to protect people in New Hampshire from the dangerous impacts of these toxic chemicals, and it’s essential that they be allowed to go into effect,” said Tom Irwin, Vice President and Director of CLF New Hampshire. “We all should be able to turn on our taps without wondering if our water is safe. 3M’s case is nothing more than a giant corporation’s attempt to put their profits over the health and safety of our communities.”
Called ‘forever chemicals’ because of their persistence in the environment, PFAS have been widely used to make nonstick cookware, food wrappers, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.
Last year, New Hampshire issued rules regulating four PFAS in the state’s drinking water and groundwater. 3M has produced these dangerous chemicals for years and is now challenging the new rules.
Solar Developer Sued for Alleged Damage to Protected Streams and Wetlands, Pollution of River in Williamsburg
A Pennsylvania-based solar energy development company has been sued for allegedly damaging protected wetland resources in the town of Williamsburg and illegally polluting the West Branch Mill River, a cold-water fishery, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that Dynamic Energy Solutions, LLC (Dynamic) disregarded fundamental pollution control requirements for construction sites under federal and state law when it constructed an 18.5-acre solar array on a steep hillside above the West Branch Mill River in Williamsburg. As a result, Dynamic allegedly caused sediment-laden stormwater to discharge in extreme amounts from the array site, eroding the hillside, scouring out perennial and intermittent streams, uprooting trees, destroying streambeds, filling in wetlands with sediment, and causing the river to become brown, in violation of federal and state laws protecting water and wetland resources.
“This careless disregard of federal and state requirements to control stormwater pollution caused irreparable harm to the West Branch Mill River and nearby wetlands,” said AG Healey. “Solar developers who are helping to build our clean energy economy must follow all legal requirements. We will enforce our laws that protect precious natural resources.”
The AG’s complaint alleges that Dynamic’s failure to comply with construction stormwater pollution control requirements altered approximately 97,000 square feet of protected wetlands and more than 41,000 feet of riverfront area and covered the bottom of the West Branch Mill River with the equivalent of more than an acre of sediment pollution. The complaint further alleges that Dynamic’s actions destroyed wildlife habitat and vegetation and changed the flow of the tributaries feeding the West Branch Mill River. The West Branch Mill River is a valuable cold-water fishery that is important to the Northern Spring Salamander and a dragonfly species known as the Ocellated Darner. Dynamic also allegedly failed to comply with an enforcement order issued by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) requiring the stabilization of the site, stormwater controls, and restoration of the damaged resources.
MassDEP’s Western Regional Office investigated the case and referred it to the AG’s Office for further enforcement.
"The wetlands rules are in place to ensure that projects do not harm valuable water resources,” said MassDEP Regional Director Michael Gorski. “We look forward to a resolution of this case that results in restoration of all natural resources affected."
The AG’s Office is seeking civil penalties and a permanent injunction requiring Dynamic to restore the damaged wetlands and other resource areas.
Stormwater pollution is regulated under a variety of federal Clean Water Act permits and is recognized as the largest threat to water quality in the state. The announcement is part of a civil enforcement initiative out of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division that focuses on combatting pollution by enforcing the requirements of the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts in Massachusetts, along with applicable state environmental laws. The AG has successfully resolved four cases under this initiative since the program’s launch in 2019. The initiative will continue to protect Massachusetts communities from dangerous pollution, including stormwater pollution.
This case is being handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Nora Chorover of Attorney General Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with the assistance of Senior Regional Counsel Heather Parent, and technical staff members David Cameron and David Foulis of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield.
Surgeons Help Create New Process for Disinfecting and Reusing N95 Masks
Amid shortages of personal protective equipment due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a St. Louis health care system has implemented a process to disinfect disposable N95 respirator masks that allows health care workers to reuse their own mask for up to 20 cycles. The novel disinfection process, developed in collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine, uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide and is described in an article in press
on the Journal of the American College of Surgeons
website in advance of print.
Test results from a pilot program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and two other hospitals that are also part of BJC HealthCare, showed that the disinfection process kills germs from N95 masks while ensuring that the only person who touches the mask is the original mask wearer, study authors reported.
"Our primary outcome is safety for the health care worker," said project leader and study coauthor Andrew Pierce, MHSA, director of supply plus at Barnes-Jewish. "We want to make it safer for team members who are at risk while taking care of patients with a known or possible COVID-19 diagnosis."
Their program uses a disinfecting procedure first tested by Duke University researchers in 2016.1 However, the Barnes-Jewish process has a unique modification--an identification system that enables the hospital to return the sanitized mask to the same individual each time, said senior author Shaina Eckhouse, MD, FACS, assistant professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. Dr. Eckhouse is part of the multidisciplinary team of university and hospital staff who developed the disinfection program.
This approach, according to the authors, increased employee acceptance of reusing what is normally a single-use N95 mask and helped ensure proper fit of the returned mask.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended strategies for conserving personal protective equipment, including decontamination and reuse of N95 masks. Almost half of U.S. health care facilities reported being nearly or completely out of N95 respirator masks, according to a March 27 survey conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
In late March, before the program began, Barnes-Jewish had a low inventory of N95 masks--about a week's worth--and no expectations for replenishment because of international shortages in hospital supply chains, according to Mr. Pierce.
The disinfection process that has since been put into place begins at the end of a shift. A health care provider removes his or her N95 mask in that unit's soiled utility room and places it in a sterilization pouch (Crosstex) made of breathable polyethylene fiber (Tyvek by DuPont) on one side. On the other side of the sealed pouch, the worker writes his or her name or employee ID number, hospital, department, and unit location and puts the pouch in the soiled collection bin.
A designated worker wearing proper protection collects the bins twice a day and takes them to a specially designed and sealed disinfection room--built in four days, according to Dr. Eckhouse. There the pouches are arranged, breathable side up, by clinical unit on wire racks. A hydrogen peroxide vapor generator (Bioquell Z-2), which Washington University already owned to decontaminate equipment, fills the room with the chemical.
After 4.5 hours of disinfection, a worker moves the racks of masks to another area that has a fan to off-gas the hydrogen peroxide, where the masks stay until sensors record a zero reading. The pouches are returned to their respective units in a decontaminated bin, finishing a process that takes about seven hours, Mr. Pierce said.
Workers can wear their mask up to three weeks because past studies show that disinfection more than 20 times could alter the fit of the mask, he noted.
Since the program began April 1 in the Barnes-Jewish emergency department, it expanded in just two weeks to additional clinical departments and other hospitals in the system, which Mr. Pierce called "an immense achievement."
Currently, Mr. Pierce said they are disinfecting 240 N95 masks a day and have the capability of disinfecting 1,500 masks daily. Without the disinfection program, he said the health care system would need to discard a substantial amount of its respirator masks. Because of the disinfection, the hospitals now have enough masks to last for weeks.
"This program is a welcome improvement for extended usage of N95s during the shortage that we are facing," Mr. Pierce said. Dr. Eckhouse said other hospitals facing mask shortages can reproduce the disinfection program if they bring together experts in environmental health and safety, medicine, and facility management. "Having the infrastructure already in place would improve the ease of deploying an N95 disinfection process," she stated.
EPA Highlights Enforcement Actions Against Those Who Violate the Defeat Device and Tampering Prohibitions under the Clean Air Act
EPA has identified numerous companies and individuals who have manufactured and sold both hardware and software specifically designed to defeat required emissions controls on vehicles and engines used on public roads as well as on nonroad vehicles and engines.
Cars and trucks manufactured today emit far less pollution than older vehicles. This occurs through careful engine calibrations and emissions controls in exhaust systems such as catalytic converters and diesel oxidation catalysts. Aftermarket defeat devices bypass these controls and cause higher emissions. EPA testing has shown that these devices can increase vehicle emissions substantially. Illegally modified vehicles and engines contribute substantial excess pollution that harms public health and impedes efforts by EPA, tribes, states, and local agencies to plan for and attain air quality standards.
In an on-going effort to address this air quality problem, EPA has resolved more than 50 cases addressing these types of violations since 2015. The announcement highlights three such cases that have been resolved administratively:
- Freedom Performance, LLC was a major web-based distributor of diesel defeat device products. On February 24, 2020, EPA’s Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a default judgment against Freedom Performance, LLC, ordering a $7.058 million penalty for 13,928 violations of the aftermarket defeat device prohibition of the Clean Air Act (CAA).
- Spartan Diesel was ordered to pay a $4.1 million penalty for 5,000 violations of the aftermarket defeat device prohibition of the CAA on October 30, 2018, by the ALJ.
- KT Performance is a Florida-based company that sold and installed approximately 2,833 delete products for diesel-powered trucks between January 2013 and April 2018. EPA filed an administrative complaint against KT Performance for violations of the aftermarket defeat device and tampering prohibitions of the CAA on April 30, 2018. The parties resolved the matter on July 3, 2018. The company was assessed a civil penalty of $52,284 that was calculated based on a demonstrated inability to pay a higher amount.
In recognition of the substantial excess pollution caused by illegally modified vehicles and engines, EPA is implementing a National Compliance Initiative entitled Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices for Vehicles and Engines. In furtherance of this initiative, EPA will continue to vigorously pursue enforcement against those who violate the defeat device and tampering prohibitions of the Clean Air Act. In addition, EPA has and will continue to prosecute criminal activity related to the illegal sale and installation of defeat devices.
If you suspect someone is manufacturing, selling or installing illegal defeat devices, or is tampering with emissions controls, you can notify EPA by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Release Proposal to Reduce New York's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Emissions Cap by 30%
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released proposed regulations to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's first regional program to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. The revised regulations would advance New York's portion of the 30%regional cap reduction from 2021 to 2030, ensuring that regional emissions are 65%below the starting cap level by 2030. These emissions reductions support Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's nation-leading requirements under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85%by 2050. The proposed regulations would fulfill the Governor's January 2017 State of the State challenge
to the RGGI states to further strengthen the RGGI program, which yields environmental, health, and economic benefits. With this program update, the regional cap in 2030 will be 65 percent below the 2009 starting level.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Strengthening New York's RGGI regulations will help achieve Governor Cuomo's ambitious emissions reduction and clean energy efforts. In the continued dereliction of federal leadership to reduce the pollution that is changing our climate and impacting the health of our people, the RGGI program demonstrates how states can work together to respond to the climate crisis in a way that advances our economies."
Alicia Barton, President and CEO NYSERDA said, "Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York is leading the nation to aggressively and proactively address climate change by reducing carbon emissions and spurring a clean energy economy. Continuing to set and meet ambitious carbon mitigation goals proves, once again, that our state is a leader in environmental stewardship and I am eager to work with our fellow agencies and states to combat climate change with decisive action."
In addition, New York is going beyond many of its RGGI partner states by adding smaller peaking power plants that each have a capacity of less than 25 megawatts of power to the program. This change recognizes that most of these smaller sources are located in proximity to New York's Environmental Justice communities, which include communities of color and low-income communities that bear an undue and historic burden of air pollution.
Another key proposed change to the RGGI program is the creation of the Emissions Containment Reserve (ECR), a new feature designed to ensure additional carbon dioxide emissions reductions by auctioning fewer allowances in the event the cost of such reductions is less than anticipated. The proposed regulations also simplify the program and ensure that reductions from power plants continue by removing all offset categories except for emissions from livestock operations.
In addition, proposed revisions to NYSERDA's regulations
advance that investment of proceeds from allowance auctions provide equitable benefits to disadvantaged communities, in accordance with the CLCPA. NYSERDA's proposed regulations will be published in the State Register on May 13, 2020, opening a public comment period that closes on July 13, 2020.
DEC's proposed regulations (Part 242)
were published in the State Register on April 29, opening a public comment period that closes on June 29, 2020. In accordance with Governor Cuomo's Executive Order regarding the temporary suspension of public hearings to limit the community spread of COVID-19, DEC will not hold a public hearing.
The CLCPA requires the State to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2040, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, setting a new standard for states and the nation to expedite the transition to a clean energy economy. The new law will drive investment in clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage. Importantly, implementation of the CLCPA will target investments to benefit disadvantaged communities, create tens of thousands of new jobs, improve public health and quality of life and provide all New Yorkers with more robust clean energy choices.
For more information about the CLCPA and the Climate Action Council, visit www.climate.ny.gov
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