Smartphone Tests for Lead in Water

October 01, 2018
The discovery of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water drew renewed attention to the health risks posed by the metal. Now researchers at the University of Houston have created an inexpensive system using a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer that can detect lead in tap water at levels commonly accepted as dangerous.
The system builds upon earlier work by Wei-Chuan Shih, associate professor of electrical & computer engineering, and members of his lab, including the discovery of an inexpensive elastomer lens that can convert a basic smartphone into a microscope.
The latest discovery, described in the journal Analytical Chemistry, combines nano-colorimetry with dark-field microscopy, integrated into the smartphone microscope platform to detect levels of lead below the safety threshold set by the EPA.
“Smartphone nano-colorimetry is rapid, low-cost, and has the potential to enable individual citizens to examine (lead) content in drinking water on-demand in virtually any environmental setting,” the researchers wrote.
Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems, with young children especially vulnerable to neurological damage. EPA standards require lead levels in drinking water to be below 15 parts per billion, and Shih said currently available consumer test kits aren’t sensitive enough to accurately detect lead at that level.
By using an inexpensive smartphone equipped with an inkjet-printed lens and using the dark-field imaging mode, researchers were able to produce a system that was both portable and easy to operate, as well as able to detect lead concentrations at 5 parts per billion in tap water. The sensitivity reached 1.37 parts per billion in deionized water. Shih and his students last year published an open-source dataset in Biomedical Optics Express, explaining how to convert a smartphone equipped with the elastomer lens into a microscope capable of fluorescence microscopy. That paper has been the journal’s most frequently downloaded paper since its publication.
The latest application incorporates color analysis to detect nanoscale lead particles. In addition to Shih, researchers on the project include first author Hoang Nguyen and Yulung Sung, Kelly O’Shaughnessy and Xiaonan Shan, all with the UH Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. O’Shaughnessy was a summer intern from the University of Cincinnati under the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.
Applying the dataset published in 2017, the researchers built a self-contained smartphone microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes and paired it with an inexpensive Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera. They spiked tap water with varying amounts of lead, ranging from 1.37 parts per billion to 175 parts per billion. They then added chromate ions, which react with the lead to form lead chromate nanoparticles; the nanoparticles can be detected by combining colorimetric analysis and microscopy.
The analysis measured both the intensity detected from the nanoparticles, correlating that to the lead concentration, and verified that the reaction was spurred by the presence of lead. The mixture was transferred to a polydimethylsiloxane slab attached to a glass slide; after it dried, deionized water was used to rinse off the chromate compound and the remaining sediment was imaged for analysis.
The microscopy imaging capability proved essential, Shih said, because the quantity of sediment was too small to be imaged with an unassisted smartphone camera, making it impossible to detect relatively low levels of lead. Building upon the smartphone microscope platform to create a useful consumer product was key, Shih said. “We wanted to be sure we could do something that would be useful from the standpoint of detecting lead at the EPA standard,” he said.
Job Openings at Environmental Resource Center
We’re looking for new team members with hands-on environmental and safety experience. The successful candidate will have at least 4 years’ EHS experience at a manufacturing facility in a position implementing safety and environmental regulations or at a government agency that enforces the regulations. Job functions will include providing consulting services, audits, as well as training program development and presentation. Excellent writing and public speaking skills are required. Frequent air travel. Profit sharing, 401K, and other great benefits.
We also have an opening for an EHS associate. This position requires at least 2 years’ experience in the implementation of EHS regulations together with excellent writing and editing skills.
If you’d like to join a growing company that’s known for its quality, ethics, and expertise, send your resume, a writing sample, and salary requirements to
EPA Takes First Steps in Identifying Next Group of Chemicals for Risk Evaluation under TSCA
EPA has released the approach it will use to identify chemicals that could be included in the next group of risk evaluations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Additionally, the Agency will be looking for input from the public on which chemicals should be prioritized for risk evaluation and which chemicals may be low priorities under TSCA.
“EPA will be open and transparent as we continue to review the safety of existing chemicals,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. ”Today’s announcement is an important first step in determining which chemicals will be prioritized for risk evaluation as we fulfill our obligations under TSCA and ensure chemicals in the marketplace are safe for human health and the environment.” 
The document lays out EPA’s near-term approach for identifying potential chemicals for prioritization, the initial step in evaluating the safety of existing chemicals under TSCA. Building on the Agency’s promise to work with the public to select the next chemicals for risk evaluation, this approach reflects public input received at a December 2017 meeting and through the public docket. By December 2019, EPA must designate at least 20 chemical substances as High-Priority for risk evaluation and 20 chemical substances as Low-Priority for which risk evaluation is not currently warranted. 
The document also includes a longer-term risk-based strategy for managing the larger TSCA chemical landscape which, according to the TSCA Inventory, is composed of more than 40,000 active chemicals. This longer-term approach proposes parsing chemicals into “bins” that can be used to inform multiple activities and priorities throughout EPA, including within the TSCA program. After the Federal Register notice publishes EPA will open a public docket to accept comments on this longer-term strategy, which will inform its continued development and help outline a public meeting to be held in early 2019.
Upon publication of the Federal Register notice, EPA will open 73 chemical-specific public dockets, one for each of the remaining chemicals on the 2014 TSCA Work Plan. Additionally, there will be a general docket open for the public to suggest chemicals for risk evaluation that are not on the Work Plan. With this action, the Agency will be providing the public an opportunity to submit use, hazard, and exposure information on these chemicals. EPA will use this data to inform TSCA prioritization and risk evaluation for these chemicals.
EPA has undertaken several activities to meet its statutory responsibilities under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act which amends the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Nation’s primary chemicals management law. The Agency has met initial deadlines from the Lautenberg Act, including issuing the framework rules on existing chemicals prioritization, risk evaluation, existing chemicals inventory by the first-year anniversary of the Act on June 22, 2017.
On the second-year anniversary of the Lautenberg Act, EPA issued:
  • Mercury Use Reporting Rule with deadlines and requirements to assist in updating the inventory of mercury supply, use, and trade in the United States.
  • Alternative Testing Strategy to promote the development of alternative test methods to reduce vertebrate animal testing. On March 7, 2018, EPA released the draft strategy for public comment.
  • Guidance on Generic Names.
  • Policy on Assigning Unique Identifiers.: EPA will develop a policy for assigning unique identifiers to chemicals and applying those identifiers to other information concerning the same chemical.
  • Guidance on Expanding CBI access to states, tribes, and local governments; health and environmental professionals; and first responders.
Finally, on September 27, 2018, EPA issued a final Fees Rule to provide funding for Lautenberg Act implementation, including risk evaluations and reviewing confidential business information.
Stericycle Fined for Medical Waste Discharges
Stericycle Inc. has agreed to pay a reduced fine and fund a water quality improvement project to settle violations of its wastewater discharge permit.
From March to December 2017, the company exceeded its permitted limits nine times for the amount of solids it could discharge and also had one violation for excess mercury.
Elevated levels of solids in water can deplete dissolved oxygen which fish and other aquatic animals need to live. Excess mercury can cause death or disease to living organisms.
Stericycle processes and treats medical waste from hospitals and other medical service providers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The company sends its waste to the City of Morton Wastewater Treatment Plant in accordance with its permit. The excess solids caused the city’s treatment plant to exceed its own discharge limit for solids.
As a result, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued Stericycle in May 2018 a $72,000 penalty and an administrative order to repair and upgrade their facility.
Under the settlement, Stericycle will pay $52,000 and the money will be used by Morton to purchase water monitoring equipment. Stericycle is also required to continue with facility repairs and upgrades.
“The equipment will allow Morton to better monitor its wastewater and protect natural resources through pollution prevention,” said Rich Doenges, a manager in the Water Quality Program for the Department of Ecology. “We appreciate the company’s willingness to settle on this issue and their work to prevent future discharges that harm the environment.”
“Stericycle appreciates the opportunity to resolve this matter with a settlement that will both benefit the City of Morton and Stericycle facility operations in the future,” said Stericycle representative Jennifer Koenig.
Numatic Finishing Corp Fined for Ongoing Dangerous Waste Violations
A specialty wood finishing company in Auburn, Washington, faces a $20,000 state environmental penalty for improperly managing dangerous wastes.
Numatic Finishing Corp., applies lacquer finishes to wood products such as doors, paneling, flooring and moldings. Its wastes include ignitable and toxic solvents and leftover paints that can release harmful vapors or cause fires if not properly managed.
The Washington Department of Ecology issued the fine after observing ongoing violations in seven inspections since 2010. The company corrected the problems each time—including when Ecology issued formal orders in 2004 and 2012—but repeat violations were found in each new inspection.
Washington’s dangerous waste regulations set standards to protect the public, workers and the environment from releases of potentially harmful waste materials at commercial and industrial facilities. Ecology inspects workplaces that generate dangerous wastes to ensure compliance with requirements for safe handling and storage.
“The goal is to prevent dangerous situations like leaks, spills and fires, but that can only happen when these regulations are consistently followed,” said Raman Iyer, regional manager of Ecology’s Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program. “Most companies with violations correct them and then stay in compliance. Numatic Finishing must make sure that it stays in compliance, too.”
During the most recent inspection on Jan. 10, Ecology found the company failed to:
  • Determine whether its wastes should be designated as dangerous waste so that the materials could be properly managed.
  • Properly label its dangerous waste containers so employees and contractors could take appropriate safety precautions to prevent or respond to emergencies.
  • Keep minimum aisle space for emergency personnel and equipment.
  • Properly replace and maintain spill and decontamination equipment.
Hastings Flour Company Fined for Air Permit Violations
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has signed an agreement with the Ardent Mills Flour Company of Hastings, Minnesota, resolving air-quality violations. The company agreed to correct the violations and will pay a $32,485 civil penalty.
The violations stem from the company’s failure to obtain proper authorization from the state before making major changes to its air pollution-control systems. The company replaced part of its filtration equipment, which would have required a major amendment to the facility’s existing air quality permit, without applying for the required amendment.  Instead, the company continued operations with the new equipment under the old permit.
The company eventually applied for the permit amendment. When the MPCA subsequently conducted a routine inspection, a number of other air-quality violations were discovered, the most serious of which involved not operating the pollution-control equipment within permitted limits.  Taken together, the violations created the potential for unpermitted emissions of fine particles and other pollutants.
MPCA permits are designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution emissions and discharges from facilities.  When companies operate without the required permits, the resulting pollution can be harmful to people and the environment.
The company has since corrected the violations and agreed to operate under the pollution-control requirements of its amended permit.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA considers how seriously the violations affected the environment, whether they were first-time or repeat violations, and how promptly the violations were reported to authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions, see the MPCA’s Quarterly Summary of Enforcement Actions webpage.
Owner and Operator of Recycletronics Named in Indictment
Aaron Rochester, from Sioux City, Iowa, has been charged with one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one charge of transportation of hazardous waste. The charges are contained in an Indictment filed on July 25, 2018, in United States District Court in Sioux City.
The Indictment alleges that, beginning on or about June 2015 through about July 2018, Rochester, as owner and operator of Recycletronics, knowingly and unlawfully, stored and transported hazardous waste, namely CRTs (cathode ray tubes) and leaded glass from televisions and computers at various facilities in and around Sioux City Iowa.
If convicted, Rochester faces a possible maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of up to $50,000 for each day of the violation, and three years of supervised release following any imprisonment.
Rochester appeared on September 25, 2018, in federal court in Sioux City and was released on bond with terms of supervision with US Probation. Rochester’s next appearance for trial is scheduled for November 5, 2018. As with any criminal case, a charge is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Shawn S. Wehde and was investigated by the EPA.  EPA Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Martinez stated, “EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division will continue to serve our communities by aggressively investigating and seeking prosecution of those whose conduct violates laws governing the storage of hazardous waste.”
TCEQ Grants Available for Making Stationary Sources Cleaner
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) announced that up to $3.6 million dollars in grants are available for projects that reduce air pollutants from facilities and other stationary sources in Texas. Eligible individuals or businesses must own and operate, or intend to build, own, and operate, stationary sources in Texas.
Applications will be accepted until 5:00 p.m., Friday, December 14, 2018, for the following New Technology Implementation Grant project categories:
  • Advanced Clean Energy projects that involve the use of certain hydrocarbons (coal, natural gas, or petroleum coke), such as biomass, solid waste, or derived-hydrogen fuel cells, while meeting minimum emissions reductions requirements.
  • New Technology projects that reduce emissions of regulated pollutants (such as criteria pollutants or hazardous air pollutants) from stationary sources.
  • New Technology Oil and Gas projects that reduce emissions from upstream and midstream oil and gas completions, production, gathering, storage, processing, and transmission activities.
The TCEQ has scheduled an application workshop to review the grant requirements and the application process. Reservations are not required. The application workshop will be held:
Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. CST at TCEQ Headquarters, 12100 Park 35 Circle, Building E, Conference Room E254S. For the latest information on the NTIG program, go to
Derive Systems Fined for Aftermarket Emissions Defeat Devices
The U.S. Department of Justice and the EPA announced a settlement with Derive Systems (Derive) addressing the sale of approximately 363,000 aftermarket products which the United States alleges were designed, in part, to defeat the emissions control systems of cars and trucks in violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA).
Over a span of multiple years, Derive sold products, including custom engine tuning software and parts, online and at distributers across the nation under the brand names of “Bully Dog” and “SCT” for use in many types of gasoline and diesel-fueled cars and trucks. Under the terms of the settlement, Derive will spend approximately $6.25 million to bring the company and its products into compliance with the CAA. Derive will also pay a civil penalty of $300,000.
“For decades, Americans have worked hard to significantly reduce harmful emissions from cars and trucks. Tremendous progress has been made and the air is much cleaner today across the nation.  Unfortunately, not everyone is playing by the rules. Today’s settlement will bring Derive Systems and its aftermarket products into compliance with the CAA, and demonstrates to other manufacturers that products designed to unlawfully thwart vehicle emissions control systems will not be tolerated,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our partners at EPA to hold companies who violate environmental laws accountable, and to protect clean air for all Americans.”
“Manufacturers and sellers of automotive emissions control defeat devices should stand up and take notice of this settlement,” said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA will protect air quality by vigorously enforcing the Clean Air Act’s prohibition on these devices.”
Derive manufactured and sold custom tuning software designed to access and overwrite the original vehicle manufacturer’s software. Vehicle manufacturers design vehicle software to reduce air pollution, monitor the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics of emissions controls, and otherwise comply with the CAA.  Derive’s software enabled the user to remove emission control components that reduce tailpipe emissions, including catalysts, diesel particulate filters, exhaust gas recirculation systems, elements of on-board diagnostic systems, and other elements of design certified by vehicle manufacturers to comply with the CAA.
In addition, Derive sold parts or components for motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines that bypass, defeat, or render inoperative elements of design that were installed by the vehicle or engine manufacturer to comply with CAA emission standards. These handheld products—commonly known as “tuners”—enabled the user to easily turn off emission controls installed and certified by vehicle manufacturers to comply with the CAA.
Under the terms of the settlement, Derive must stop introducing new noncompliant tuners into commerce and retrofit existing tuners so that they comply with the CAA. All new and existing tuners offered for sale must have a reasonable basis demonstrating that the use of the products will not adversely affect vehicle emissions. Besides tuners, Derive must limit access to key emission control parameters in their custom tuning software and create a customer verification program for users of the custom tuning software, which includes training about vehicle functions, emission controls, and the CAA requirements. Derive must stop any marketing that would provide information on how consumers can defeat emission controls in their vehicles, and work with their national distributors to prevent the packaged sale of their products with companion defeat devices. Derive must train their employees to comply with the CAA. Derive must also pay a penalty of $300,000 based on the company’s demonstrated limited ability to pay a larger amount.
The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval, and will be lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Chevron Products Co. Cited for Hazardous Waste Violations
EPA has reached an agreement with Chevron Products Co. over hazardous waste violations at their former facility in Kapolei, Hawaii. The company will pay a $48,000 penalty as part of the consent order.
“Facilities must manage hazardous waste in ways that protect public health and the environment,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Enforcement Division Director Kathleen Johnson. “Proper hazardous waste handling, storage and reporting help ensure these substances do not harm workers or surrounding communities.”
Chevron, which owned and operated the Kapolei refinery facility until the end of 2016, was fined for:
  • Improperly characterizing hazardous waste, including treating stormwater discharge as non-hazardous, and not identifying cleaning sludge waste as a listed hazardous waste;
  • Failing to include all waste codes on the hazardous waste manifest; and
  • Not keeping proper records of the type of waste sent to treatment and disposal facilities.
EPA’s hazardous waste rules require facilities to properly store, label, and send hazardous waste to permitted treatment and disposal facilities. Facilities must also have properly trained staff, as improperly stored hazardous waste can potentially spill and pose a risk to workers and the environment. Proper disposal of hazardous waste is required at a federally permitted disposal site.
NGL Crude Logistics LLC Agrees to $25 Million Penalty and to Retire $10 Million in Renewable Fuel Production Credits
The Department of Justice and the EPA announced a settlement with NGL Crude Logistics, LLC that requires the company to retire 36 million renewable fuel credits and pay a $25 million civil penalty under the settlement to resolve violations of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The cost of the RIN retirement is approximately $10 million.
The Department of Justice and EPA alleged that NGL entered into a series of transactions with Western Dubuque Biodiesel, LLC in 2011 that resulted in the generation of an extra set of renewable fuel credits for approximately 24 million gallons of biodiesel.  NGL’s scheme generated approximately 36 million additional credits, known as Renewable Identification Numbers or RINs.  RINs are created when a company produces qualifying renewable fuel and can be traded or sold to refineries and importers to use for compliance with renewable fuel production requirements.  On July 3, 2018, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa found NGL liable for: (1) failing to retire RINs when it designated and sold biodiesel to Western Dubuque as “feedstock” for the production of biodiesel, (2) causing Western Dubuque to generate invalid RINs and commit other prohibited acts under the RFS program, and (3) transferring approximately 36 million invalid RINs to other entities.
“Enforcement actions such as the one we announce today are essential to ensuring the integrity of government programs,” said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio.  “Fraud in the RFS market will not be tolerated. I applaud the work of the EPA and DOJ enforcement team who achieved today’s excellent result for the taxpayers.”
“A strong enforcement program is essential to maintaining the integrity of the RIN market,” said Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Susan Bodine.  “Through this settlement EPA and DOJ are holding NGL accountable for its violations of the RFS program.”
“The Renewable Fuel Standards program is important to Iowa’s agricultural community,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa Peter Deegan.  “Our office is committed to protecting the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standards program and ensuring a level playing field for Iowa businesses.”
The United States’ complaint alleged that in 2011, NGL purchased millions of gallons of biodiesel on the open market, and that approximately 36 million RINs had been assigned to the biodiesel.  NGL sold most of the RINs to other entities.  NGL then sold the biodiesel to Western Dubuque, but designated it as a “feedstock.”  Western Dubuque reprocessed the biodiesel provided by NGL and generated a second set of RINs for the same fuel.  Western Dubuque sold the reprocessed biodiesel and the second set of RINs back to NGL.  NGL then sold most of these RINs to other entities.  Western Dubuque resolved its alleged violations of the RFS program in a 2016 settlement with the United States.
EPA discovered the violations through a tip from RFS program participants, an inspection, and extensive investigation into the NGL transactions.
EPA is responsible for developing and implementing regulations to ensure that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel.  The RFS program was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
NGL is a midstream energy provider headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma that transports crude oil, and markets and supplies refined products, natural gas liquids, and other products.  NGL was known as Gavilon, LLC at the time of the violations. 
The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. 
Solvent Recycler Fined for Hazardous Waste Violations
EPA announced a settlement with Rho-Chem, LLC, a solvent recycling and storage facility in Inglewood, California, for federal hazardous waste violations. Under the agreement, Rho-Chem will take specific steps to better track and more safely manage hazardous wastes at its Inglewood facility. Rho-Chem will also purchase more than $353,000 in emergency response equipment for the Los Angeles County Fire Department and pay a $120,527 penalty.
“Improper management of hazardous waste can lead to fires, explosions or unplanned release of hazards into the environment,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “We are pleased that through this settlement, our local first responders are able to receive additional equipment necessary to protect the community.”
Rho-Chem is a fuel blending, solvent recycling and re-packaging distribution and storage facility. EPA’s September 2015 inspection found that Rho-Chem was in violation of federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations. RCRA rules require the safe management of hazardous waste to protect public health and the environment and to prevent costly and extensive cleanups.
The company’s violations included:
  • Failure to make a hazardous waste determination for certain solid waste generated;
  • Failure to maintain and inspect secondary containment areas to prevent leaks and spills;
  • Failure to regularly inspect its hazardous waste operations area to detect discharges;
  • Failure to inspect and properly maintain its closed ventilation monitoring systems;
  • Failure to properly manage ignitable hazardous waste in certain areas of the facility;
  • Failure to maintain adequate operating records; and
  • Failure to obtain the proper permit to store and treat hazardous waste for longer than 90 days.
In addition to the penalty, Rho-Chem is required to complete a supplemental environmental project to purchase and provide at least $352,992 worth of emergency response instruments, and communication and computing equipment to the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Homeland Security/Hazardous Materials Response Section. This equipment will improve the department’s ability to identify and monitor chemicals and other hazardous materials in the field such as toxic and combustible gases, volatile organic compounds, radiation, and meteorological factors.
The settlement also requires Rho-Chem to implement an electronic system that will more accurately document the amounts and types of hazardous waste received, treated, stored, or scheduled for off-site disposal. The company will complete an audit of hazardous air emissions at its facility and provide its audit report to EPA, along with a schedule of corrective actions. As part of its renewal application for its hazardous waste permit, the company will submit a revised Waste Analysis Plan that outlines procedures for accurately determining the appropriate treatment standard for hazardous waste and debris and a revised Closure Plan to close certain units at its facility.
Bureau of Reclamation Cited for Hazardous Waste Violations at Grand Coulee Dam
The Bureau of Reclamation has settled federal hazardous waste handling violations with the EPA at Grand Coulee Dam in Northeastern Washington. According to Chris Hladick, EPA Regional Administrator in Seattle, the action was undertaken at the request of the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology.
“We conducted this inspection at the Dam at the Department of Ecology’s request and found some areas of non-compliance,” said EPA’s Hladick. “Proper handling and management of hazardous waste is a serious responsibility that protects both workers and the public. All types of facilities must comply with the rules to protect people’s health and our environment.”
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) violations discovered during EPA’s 2017 inspection included:
  • Failure to conduct weekly inspections of hazardous waste accumulation areas;
  • Improper container management and failure to follow waste labeling requirements;
  • Improper hazardous waste storage (beyond 180 days) without a permit;
  • Violations of used oil and universal waste management requirements;
  • Failure to make a hazardous waste determination.
The waste in question included ignitable and corrosive compounds, used oil, mercury light ballasts and lithium batteries. As part of the Consent Agreement and Final Order with EPA, a $115,500 penalty was assessed. None of the violations outlined above occurred in publicly accessible areas.
The Grand Coulee Dam remains one of America’s most impressive engineering marvels, spanning almost a mile (5,223 ft.) across the majestic Columbia River. The Dam also sits astride the ancient, ancestral homeland of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation. Grand Coulee Dam is one of most popular tourist attractions in Northeastern Washington, attracting up to 300,000 visitors a year for tours and laser light shows
Rocky Mountain Construction Fined $26,197 for Stormwater Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued a $26,197 penalty to Rocky Mountain Construction for multiple stormwater permit violations at its concrete batch plant facility located at 2943 Laverne Avenue in Klamath Falls.
The company failed to monitor stormwater discharge on sixteen occasions beginning in September 2014. Rocky Mountain Construction failed to implement pollution reduction measures in accordance with its stormwater pollution control plan, and failed to conduct site inspections as required by its permit.
Stormwater is water that runs off land, streets, parking lots, rooftops and other impervious surfaces after rain or snowfall. Stormwater often contains a range of pollutants that harm water quality.
DEQ issued the penalty because it relies on stormwater monitoring and site inspections to ensure compliance with pollution limits. The inspections and pollution reduction measures required by the stormwater permit and the stormwater pollution control plan are intended to reduce pollutant loads in the stormwater that the facility discharges to the Klamath River.
DEQ has ordered the company to take multiple corrective actions to return to compliance with its stormwater permit.
Rocky Mountain Construction has until October 8, 2018 to appeal the penalty.
Federal Lab Released Fish Pathogens into Lake Washington
For six months last year, a federal laboratory in Seattle released high-risk aquatic pathogens into the state’s second largest lake, according to official state records posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) declined to take any enforcement action despite previous and continuing breakdowns at the lab.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) operates two animal containment biosafety labs at its Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) researching dangerous invasive viruses and bacterial fish pathogens. On June 29, 2017, WERC officials discovered that its biosafety level-2 (BSL-2) lab had been discharging untreated or partially treated pathogen-contaminated wastewater into the wetland in Warren G. Magnuson State Park draining into Lake Washington. The lab’s effluent was last checked the prior January. The lab’s chlorination system had broken down, but it lacks an alarm to indicate when its chlorine line is clogged.
Three weeks later in a July 21 memo, WFRC acknowledged this containment breach in a laconic “Notice of Standing Operating Procedure Deviation.” But the research center did not know for how long, and how many, pathogens were flushed into Lake Washington, which also is the source of the lab’s water. Nor did USGS promise to install a chlorine meter alarm, instead merely vowing to tighten monitoring protocols.
This breach also violated conditions of WFRC’s state fish transport permit. But in an October 16, 2017 email, Kenneth Warheit, WDFW’s Supervisor of Genetic and Health Laboratories, wrote:
“I do not expect that we will impose any penalties associated with this violation to your transport permit. However, after consulting with the WDFW’s Director and Fish Program Assistant Director, and co-managers, we may impose a moratorium of future transport permits associated with fish being transported to WFRC…”
These documents obtained by PEER from WDFW under the state Public Records Act also indicate that no such moratorium was imposed, nor was any other corrective action taken.
“This is a shared federal-state abdication of both biosafety and accountability,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, contrasting Washington’s recent ban of non-native fish farms after a large-scale failure of a commercial net-pen for Atlantic salmon. “Would the state have treated this massive bio-breach with more seriousness had it occurred at a private facility, as opposed to a government agency?”
The WFRC has suffered a long history of maintenance problems causing containment losses. In addition, serious breakdowns have recurred in recent months. While the aquatic pathogens WFRC uses in animal testing are not known to cause human disease, they carry their own unknown and sometimes dangerous pathogens, such as virus species from the rabies virus family.
“This accident occurred because the U.S. Geological Survey prioritizes its administrative convenience over environmental protection,” added Ruch, noting that USGS laboratories are not subject to external accreditation. “By all indications, another, even bigger biosafety breach could easily happen tomorrow.”
PEER filed a request with the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General for an investigation into WFRC’s biosafety record, history of maintenance breakdowns, and why no responsible official has been held to account.
Glyphosate Disrupts Honey Bee Gut Bacteria
Weed killer’s microbiome effects could contribute to honey bee decline, researchers say.
Glyphosate is among the most widely used agricultural chemicals in the world, and the companies that make it describe it as safer and more environmentally-friendly than other herbicides.
But a group of researchers in Texas now report that the weed killer, sold as Roundup, could harm honeybees indirectly by disrupting the bacteria in their guts (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2018, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1803880115). The scientists think the findings could help explain the decline in honeybees observed over the past decade or so.
The team, led by Nancy Moran, an expert in bee biology at the University of Texas, Austin, treated hundreds of worker bees with glyphosate at concentrations they might encounter while foraging near agricultural fields, reintroduced them into their hive, and then analyzed the gut bacteria of treated and untreated bees in the hive. After three days, the researchers found that the abundance of some of the eight predominant species fell in treated bees compared with untreated ones, suggesting that exposure to glyphosate changed the composition of the bees’ guts. When challenged with a common bee pathogen, the worker bees exposed to glyphosate died at higher rates than unexposed bees, suggesting that the bacterial shake-up made the insects more vulnerable.
The conclusions match previous reports demonstrating that honeybees with compromised gut flora are malnourished and susceptible to infection. Those findings, along with data showing that glyphosate can affect soil bacteria and accumulate in bee honey and hives, indicate that researchers should explore whether possible off-target effects of the popular herbicide have played a role in honey bee decline, Moran says.
About 10 years ago, there was a noted die-off of honeybees, later termed colony collapse disorder. Mortality rates have continued to be high, Moran says, but the die-offs haven’t been as sudden. Researchers have been looking at the role of pesticides and fungicides in the decline, as well as infection. But glyphosate hasn’t really been part of those earlier conversations, says Fred Gould, an entomologist and plant pathologist at North Carolina State University. The field, he says, is “getting better at looking for subtle off-target effects,” such as those described in the new study.
As an herbicide, glyphosate works by blocking an enzyme called EPSP synthase in plants and microbes needed to create aromatic amino acids like phenylalanine and tryptophan. Glyphosate doesn’t kill microbes, but it keeps them from growing, and most bacteria found in bee guts carry the gene for the enzyme.
But while some species of bacteria in bee guts were susceptible to glyphosate, others were less so, either because they carried a gene for a glyphosate-resistant version of EPSPS, or because of other unknown mechanisms, Moran says. Her group next plans to repeat their experiments on whole hives, and to explore the nonEPSPS resistance mechanisms.
The environmental impact and health effects of glyphosate form a contentious issue, Gould says, so whole hive studies could shed light on the herbicide’s effects on a critical species for agriculture.
These studies also could help guide how to avoid possible negative effects of glyphosate on honeybees. The likely outcome will be some sort of best practices on when and where to spray glyphosate, says Juliana Rangel, an entomologist at Texas A&M University. Pollination via honeybees is an approximately $15 billion per year industry, she says, and “a lot of times, these tragedies can be avoided with a better understanding of the system.”
Ag Companies Required to Better Manage Pesticides
EPA announced settlements with two companies for the improper storage and labeling of agricultural pesticides. Nutrien Ag Solutions, Inc., formerly doing business as Crop Production Services, Inc., and Colusa County Farm Supply, Inc., a distributor of chemicals and fertilizers in Northern California, have agreed to pay a total of $345,148 in civil penalties. The firms have corrected all identified compliance issues.
“Companies that produce or refill pesticide products are required to carefully follow FIFRA requirements to ensure the public and the environment are protected,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Enforcement Division Director Kathleen Johnson. ”Improper storage of pesticides can lead to spills or leaks that may adversely affect human health and the environment.”
EPA asserted both companies had multiple violations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which regulates the distribution, sale and use of pesticides in the United States. Nutrien Ag Solutions agreed to pay $331,353; Colusa County Farm Supply will pay $13,795.
Nutrien Ag Solutions, one of the largest providers of crop nutrients in the world, operates one facility in Coolidge, Ariz., and seven facilities in California subject to EPA’s enforcement action, including six in the Central Valley communities of Hanford, Delano, Cutler, Bakersfield, Huron and Stockton, and one in Santa Maria, Calif. Inspections between 2013 and 2017 by EPA, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Arizona Department of Agriculture on behalf of EPA, found 52 violations.
Examples of the violations at the Nutrien Ag Solutions facilities included:
  • Failure to protect pesticide containers and pesticide-dispensing equipment from damage by moving equipment;
  • Failure to meet capacity requirements for secondary containment units and pads, which contain pesticides that may spill or leak from bulk containers and trucks;
  • Distribution and sale of misbranded pesticides;
  • Failure to collect and recover pesticide spills and leaks as required; and
  • Failure to keep records related to the distribution and storage of pesticides.
Colusa County Farm Supply operates a facility in Williams, Calif., which was inspected by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation in May 2017. The violations found included:
  • Failure to keep proper inspection and maintenance records;
  • Failure to keep records of the repackaging of pesticides into refillable containers; and
  • Improperly using an external sight gauge to monitor levels of liquid pesticide in a storage tank.
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act regulations help safeguard the public, the environment, and facility workers by ensuring that pesticides are used, stored, and disposed of safely, and that pesticide containers are adequately cleaned. Pesticide registrants, refillers (i.e., those that repackage pesticides into refillable containers), and others in the business of selling, distributing, or applying pesticides must comply with applicable regulations, while consumers are required to follow the label instructions for proper use and disposal.
DEQ Fines Abate Right Inc. for Asbestos Violations September 26, 2018
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has fined Abate Right Inc. of Salem $1,300 for failing to submit timely notification to DEQ of an emergency residential asbestos abatement.
The notification involved an abatement project that took place in June in Lincoln City.
DEQ also cited the company, without penalty, for failing to submit an accurate notification. As a licensed contractor, the company is responsible for submitting timely, complete and accurate notifications to DEQ for every project. DEQ relies on these notifications to perform its oversight role, including compliance inspections.
Asbestos fibers are a respiratory hazard that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
When calculating the penalty, DEQ took into account previous violations. In 2017, DEQ fined the company $2,380 for numerous asbestos project notification violations and for failing to submit final air clearance reports within 30 days of completing an asbestos abatement project. The company has until October 11 to appeal the penalty.
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