What Works Best: Natural or Synthetic Fabric Face Masks?

July 06, 2020
Researchers have completed a new study of how well a variety of natural and synthetic fabrics filter particles of a similar size to the virus that causes COVID-19. Of the 32 cloth materials tested, three of the five most effective at blocking particles were 100% cotton and had a visible raised fiber or nap, such as found on flannels. Four of the five lowest performers were synthetic materials. The testing also showed that multiple fabric layers could improve cotton’s effectiveness even further. None of the materials came close to the efficiency of N95 masks.
Although the sample size was relatively small, the researchers noticed that tighter woven fabrics generally filtered better than knits and loosely woven fabrics. The 100% cotton fabrics with many raised fibers also appeared to filter better than cotton fabrics that lacked this feature. The raised fibers often form web-like structures like those in medical grade masks.
Three researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — Christopher Zangmeister, James Radney and Jamie Weaver — teamed up with Edward Vicenzi of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute to evaluate materials and determine both their ability to filter particles and their breathability. Their results appear in the journal ACS Nano.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing is difficult, primarily to prevent a person who doesn’t know they’re infected from spreading the virus.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets that are expelled when a person sneezes, coughs or even talks. However, some research also suggests the virus can spread through much smaller aerosols — smaller than 1/100th the width of a human hair — that are also expelled, and which can linger in air much longer than droplets.
“It turns out that off-the-shelf materials provide some protection from aerosols if you use multiple layers of cloth and a face covering fits snugly,” said Zangmeister. “But none are as good as an N95 mask.”
The project measured a common way to determine how well a material captures particles, called filtration efficiency. Zangmeister and Radney, who are experts at measuring aerosols, set up a relatively simple experiment that relied on extremely sensitive equipment for sizing and counting aerosol particles.
The experiments used fabric samples, or swatches, rather than complete masks. “Basically, we take a swatch of material and flow a stream of particles of a known size at it,” said Zangmeister. “We count the number of particles in the air before and after it’s passed through the fabric. That tells us how effective the material is at capturing particles.”
This 100% polyester fabric was tested along with 31 other cloth materials to determine filtration efficiency and was found to be one of two synthetic samples ranking in the top five of all fabrics tested. To help researchers see greater detail, the original image was converted to a two-toned image with yellow indicating thinner or open regions of the fabric and blue indicating thicker regions of the fabric.
Instead of real (and dangerous) samples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the team used table salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), the recommended stand-in for virus particles by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which establishes testing standards for N95 and other masks. The airflow rates used in the experiments were also from NIOSH test recommendations.
The researchers tested each material against particles ranging from 50 to 825 nanometers (nm) to chart its relative performance. Meanwhile, Weaver, a materials chemist with a background in textiles, and Vicenzi, an expert in microscopy, studied each piece of fabric to determine its yarn count, weave and mass in the hopes of establishing a relationship between these characteristics and the fabric’s ability to filter particles.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus particles are about 110 nm in diameter. N95 masks are rigorously tested to ensure they block at least 95% of particles in this size range. A HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter such as those you might find in an air purifier blocks 99.97% of particles that are about 300 nm in size, and an even higher percentage of smaller particles. Of the fabrics tested in the NIST study, the best-performing single fabric layer blocked 20% of particles in the size range of the virus.
While Zangmeister and Radney conducted the aerosol experiments at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus, Weaver and Vicenzi were able to conduct their imaging work at home where they have been working since mid-March.
“We intentionally used inexpensive digital microscopes and freeware to do our part of the research from home,” said Weaver. “One motivation for this was to develop imaging methods that would allow citizen scientists to better study fabrics for relatively little startup costs.”
In addition to the fabrics, the team looked at materials including a HEPA filter, N95 mask, a surgical mask and even coffee filters, which have been suggested for use in homemade face coverings, for comparison. The team also tested combinations of fabrics (a cotton and a synthetic layer), which did not show increased effectiveness.
By combining imaging and aerosol measurements, the team found that some fabrics that filter the most particles are also the hardest to breathe through, and some even fail to meet health and safety recommendations for breathability.
“The texture turned out to be one of the more useful parameters to look at because we found that most of the cotton fabrics with raised threads tended to filter best,” said Weaver. “Our findings suggest that a fabric’s ability to filter particles is based on a complex interplay between material type, fiber and weave structures, and yarn count.”
This research adds to the body of knowledge on fabrics and filtration that dates back to the 1918 flu pandemic that killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people worldwide and prompted the first research into fabric masks and their potential to protect against viruses. It also supports subsequent research suggesting that cloth filters would not be suitable for health-care settings.
But despite decades of research on the topic, the team found that a lack of standard test methods and the broad range of materials tested made it difficult to directly compare the results of previously published studies. They hope their work will provide a method for rapidly screening materials.
“We didn’t know the answer when we started this project,” said Zangmeister. “But the bottom line is that none of these fabrics are as good as an N95 mask. Still, cloth face coverings can help slow the spread of coronavirus. We hope this research will help manufacturers and DIYers determine the best fabrics for the job and serve as a basis for additional research.”
The team plans to begin another round of testing on a new set of materials in the near future. Weaver and Vicenzi have upgraded their imaging hardware and plan to employ more sophisticated textural analysis for the next round of fabrics.
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
Annual hazardous waste training is required for anyone who generates, accumulates, stores, transports, or treats hazardous waste. Learn how to manage your hazardous waste in accordance with the latest state and federal regulations. Learn how to complete EPA’s new electronic hazardous waste manifest, and the more than 60 changes in EPA’s new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule. Environmental Resource Center’s Hazardous Waste Training is available via live webcasts. If you plan to also attend DOT hazardous materials training, call 800-537-2372 to find out how you can get your course materials on an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet at no extra charge.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers to Help Keep Workers Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic
OSHA has published frequently asked questions and answers to help protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus.
“OSHA developed these FAQs based on inquiries received from the public,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA is committed to giving employers and workers the information they need to work safely in this rapidly changing situation.”
The FAQs provide guidance to employers and employees about topics such as the best practices to prevent the spread of infection during the coronavirus pandemic, workers’ rights to express concerns about workplace conditions, testing for the coronavirus, worker training and returning to work.
These FAQs are the latest effort by OSHA to educate and protect America’s workers and employers during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA has also published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, and more recently, Guidance on Returning to Work to assist employers reopening non-essential businesses and their employees resuming operations and reopening workplaces during the evolving coronavirus pandemic.
For further information and resources about the coronavirus, please visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage.
Emergency Management Officials Encourage You to Learn a Life Saving Skill
During the course of a year, we could see any number of potential disasters - from a tornado and earthquake to flash flood or ice storm.  The most important thing to protect during a disaster is your life and the lives of those around you. That's why this month, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and local emergency management agencies are highlighting the importance of lifesaving skills like first aid, CPR, fire prevention and utility management. These are simple skills that can help save lives during a disaster.
"Learning four simple lifesaving skills can transform your role during an emergency or disaster," said IEMA Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau. "Emergencies can happen fast and it can take time for first responders to arrive on the scene. By enhancing your skillset, you are trained and skilled to be the help until first responders arrive."
Getting to know your neighbors can be extremely helpful in a crisis. Research reported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests 46 percent of individuals expect to rely on people in their neighborhood for assistance within the first 72 hours after an emergency or disaster.
When a potential disaster threatens your home, take action to keep your loved ones safe by shutting off the gas, water and electricity to your home. Failure to do so can result in fires and explosions and various home water supply issues.
Water can quickly become a precious commodity following a disaster, so knowing how to properly shut off the main water valve to the house can be a critical step in disaster preparedness. 
Different gas meters have different shut-off procedures, so it is important to contact your local gas company for guidance. Never attempt to turn the gas back on yourself; only a trained and certified professional should perform this task.
When shutting down your electricity, always shut off all the individual circuits before shutting off the main circuit. For more information on taking care of all your utilities, visit www.ready.gov/safety-skills.
If you are in an area that is prone to floods or earthquakes, there are steps you can take to protect your home from their impact. You can learn flood-mitigation techniques at https://go.usa.gov/xPr2C and https://go.usa.gov/xPrZY, and earthquake-protection measures at https://go.usa.gov/xPr2Y.
Making sure your home has functioning smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level, and at least one fire extinguisher, is one of the simplest ways to protect your family. Test your alarms monthly and contact your local fire department for extinguisher training
Another key step in fire prevention is making sure your family knows two ways out of your home in the event of a fire and practicing a fire drill with children regularly. The National Fire Protection Association has a wealth of resources available to help you create a culture of preparedness within your family.
To prevent fires from starting, stay in the kitchen when cooking, position barbecue grills at least 10 feet from flammable materials and keep children away from cooking areas. Also immediately replace any worn or damaged appliance cords, and do not run cords under rugs or furniture. For more fire safety tips, go to https://go.usa.gov/xPr24.
No matter how well you prepare for disaster, you simply cannot guarantee your loved ones or neighbors won't get hurt. If someone does get injured, you can increase their chance of survival or full recovery by applying the skills learned in a basic first aid and CPR course. Your local chapter of the American Red Cross can provide information on available courses.
For more information on how to plan and prepare for all disasters or hazards, visit state's preparedness website, Ready Illinois.
EPA’s Latest Regulatory Agenda
EPA has released the Spring 2020 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Spring Agenda), which provides updates to the public about regulatory activity planned for the next 12 months. The Spring Agenda continues to support President Trump’s commitment to regulatory reform, while simultaneously advancing the Agency’s core mission of protecting human health and the environment.
“EPA has mapped out our regulatory agenda through the first half of 2021 that will continue to reduce pollution and improve the health of all Americans, while bolstering the economy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This agenda includes new actions ranging from cost-benefit reforms and improved permitting procedures to meeting air quality review timelines. Our smart deregulatory agenda helps American businesses large and small innovate and create jobs while keeping our air and water at the cleanest levels since environmental records began.”
EPA’s Spring Agenda shows continued progress in reducing, what the Agency described as unnecessary regulatory burden as envisioned by President Trump’s Executive Order 13771. Since 2017, EPA has completed a total of 62 deregulatory actions, projected to save an estimated $40 billion in costs. The Spring Agenda includes 40 deregulatory actions under development.
In addition, the Spring Agenda contains 29 new actions expected to be issued over the next 12 months. These actions include updates to EPA’s procedures for the National Environmental Policy Act, review of National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead, and proposed rules to improve consistency and transparency in the agency’s benefit-cost analyses for hazardous waste and drinking water regulations.
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:
DOT Hazardous Materials Update – July 8, July 29

California to Spray Foam Insulation Makers: Look Harder for Safer Alternatives

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has issued a Notice of Deficiency to manufacturers of spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation systems who claim there is no suitable alternative to a toxic chemical used in their wall and roof insulation products.
DTSC found the Abridged Alternatives Analysis reports from companies participating in the American Chemistry Council’s Spray Foam Coalition to be insufficient.  DTSC is requiring more detailed information within 60 days.
“We received input on the initial reports from a variety of stakeholders, and we directed spray foam manufacturers to address those concerns,” said DTSC Director Meredith Williams. “Their response was inadequate, and we are directing the companies to submit revisions with more information and substantiation.”
Workers who apply SPF insulation are at risk of harming their respiratory systems and developing asthma when exposed to unreacted methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI). SPF is not harmful once it is installed and cured.
The spray foam manufacturers must file revised reports by August 31. If the revisions are not adequate, DTSC can issue a second Notice of Deficiency. Manufacturers of SPF insulation, as represented by the American Chemistry Council, are asserting there are no functional alternatives to their products. If the industry adequately supports their claims in their Abridged Alternatives Analysis, they will be required to, at a minimum, fund further research into potential alternatives and provide product safety information to consumers. DTSC may require additional responses if necessary.
DTSC’s Safer Consumer Products Program began regulating SPF systems with unreacted MDI in July 2018. State regulations require manufacturers who sell products in California to study whether safer alternatives such as reformulations or product design changes exist, and they must submit a report to DTSC outlining their findings and actions proposed to make their products safer.
The following companies submitted reports: Carlisle Spray Foam Insulation (formerly Accella Polyurethane Systems), A&B Filling Inc., BASF Corporation, DAP Products Inc., Demilec, DuPont, Firestone Building Products, General Coatings Manufacturing Corp., Henry Company LLC, ICP Adhesives & Sealants, Icynene-Lapolla, Johns Manville, Barnhardt Manufacturing Company, SES Foam LLC, SWD Urethanes, and Rhino Linings Corporation.
Federal Court Orders Sanctions, Appoints Special Master in Contempt Ruling Against Contractors, Owner for Not Complying with Safety Standards
On June 5, 2020, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered coercive sanctions against the owner of two Jacksonville, Florida-based contractors after finding them in contempt of court for failing to pay $2,202,049 in penalties assessed by OSHA for safety and health violations at Florida worksites.
On Jan. 3, 2020, the appeals court held Great White Construction Inc., Florida Roofing Experts, and their owner Travis Slaughter in civil contempt and ordered the residential and commercial roofing companies to pay the outstanding penalties of $2,202,049 plus interest and fees. The court also required the companies and Slaughter to certify that they had corrected the violations.
Previously, the Department of Labor filed a petition for summary enforcement against the companies and Slaughter, pursuant to Section 11(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to enforce 12 final orders of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Those orders arose from 25 OSHA inspections at worksites in Florida that disclosed multiple willful and repeat violations of fall protection and other safety and health standards. On Oct. 2, 2017, and June 5, 2018, the court granted the petitions, enforcing the commission’s final orders.
On Aug. 28, 2019, the Department filed a civil contempt petition against Great White, Florida Roofing and Slaughter, alleging that the companies failed to comply with the court’s October 2017 and June 2018 orders, based on the companies’ continued OSHA violations and failure to pay assessed penalties. In granting the Department’s petition, the court appointed a special master to enforce its Jan. 3, 2020, sanction order and ensure Great White, Florida Roofing, and the owner pay the $2,202,049 in penalties owed, plus interest and fees. The court warned Slaughter that failure to comply could result in his incarceration.
“This enforcement action demonstrates that OSHA will use every resource available to ensure that standards are followed and that companies like Great White and Florida Roofing Experts are held accountable when they ignore multiple court orders, do not correct cited violations, and fail to pay penalties,” said OSHA’s Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer.
Chestnut Petroleum Distributors, Inc. Cited for UST Violations
Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter D. Lopez, Regional Administrator of the EPA, announced that the United States has entered into a Consent Decree settling a civil lawsuit against Chestnut Petroleum Distributors, Inc., and its affiliates CPD Energy Corp., CPD NY Energy Corp., Chestnut Mart of Gardiner, Inc., Chestnut Marts, Inc., Greenburgh Food Mart, Inc., Middletown Food Mart, Inc., and NJ Energy Corp. (collectively, “Defendants”), for violating RCRA in connection with their ownership or operation of underground storage tanks at 20 separate gas stations within the Southern District of New York and adjoining districts.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “Today’s settlement holds Chestnut Petroleum Distributors, Inc., and its affiliates accountable for repeatedly failing to comply with regulations designed to prevent gasoline leaks from injuring public health and the environment, and ensures ongoing oversight of the defendants’ operations to protect the public in the future.”
EPA Regional Administrator Peter D. Lopez said:  “Failure to regularly monitor underground storage tanks and address possible leaks risks contaminating groundwater, which is one of our most valuable natural resources. This settlement requires the companies to follow laws in place to mitigate safety threats and protect the environment.”
Petroleum products such as gasoline contain chemical compounds that pose substantial threats to human health.  Service stations typically store gasoline in underground storage tanks.  When operated conscientiously and monitored closely, underground storage tanks are a safe and effective means to store gasoline.  But when those tanks are not subjected to basic operational safeguards, they can endanger the public and the environment, for example by leaking petroleum into the water supply, discharging toxic vapors into the air, or even triggering fires or explosions.  EPA’s regulations under RCRA are designed to protect the public by requiring underground storage tank operators to reduce the likelihood of leaks, monitor for leaks so they can promptly be addressed, and maintain adequate insurance to conduct corrective action and compensate injured third parties should a leak occur.
The Consent Decree, which is subject to public comment and approval by the district court, resolves a lawsuit filed by the United States in May 2019, which alleges that Defendants repeatedly violated RCRA and related regulations at various times between 2011 and 2014 with respect to their ownership and/or operation of underground storage tanks at 20 gas stations.
In the Consent Decree, defendants admit, acknowledge, and accept responsibility for failing to perform required actions at one or more facilities on various specified dates between 2011 and 2014.  This includes:
  • failing to perform release (i.e., leak or spill) detection;
  • failing to maintain and provide records of release detection monitoring;
  • failing to operate corrosion protection systems (including inspecting and testing) for steel underground storage tank systems and failing to maintain and provide records of corrosion protection monitoring;
  • failing to cap and secure underground storage tanks that were temporarily closed;
  • failing to perform release detection for underground storage tanks that were temporarily closed;
  • failing to report suspected releases or unusual operating conditions for underground storage tanks;
  • failing to conduct release investigations and confirm suspected releases or unusual operating conditions; and
  • failing to maintain insurance policies sufficient to take corrective action and compensate third parties for bodily injury and property damage caused by accidental releases arising from the operation of the underground storage tanks.
Pursuant to the Consent Decree, Defendants are required to comply with the regulations applicable to underground storage tanks for all underground storage tanks at the facilities at issue, and to take various measures to ensure such compliance, including undertaking inspections, maintaining and operating an electronic environmental management system providing centralized electronic monitoring of release detection at all underground storage tanks at the facilities, monitoring the under-dispenser containment systems at all underground storage tanks at the facilities, and providing semi-annual reports to EPA. Defendants also agree to undertake certain measures with respect to newly acquired facilities containing underground storage tanks, including providing notice to EPA of the planned acquisition, conducting a pre-acquisition assessment, and ensuring that all underground storage tanks at newly acquired facilities are promptly brought into compliance with all applicable regulations.
In addition to this injunctive relief, Defendants will pay a civil penalty of $187,500.  Defendants will also be subject to substantial penalties if they fail to comply with the terms of the Consent Decree.
The Consent Decree will be lodged with the District Court for a period of at least 30 days, and notice of the Consent Decree will be published in the Federal Register before the Consent Decree is submitted for the Court’s approval.  This will afford members of the public the opportunity to submit comments on the Consent Decree to the Department of Justice.
Acting U.S. Attorney Strauss thanked EPA’s attorneys and staff for their critical work on this matter. This case is being handled by the Office’s Environmental Protection Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Christopher Connolly, Rachael Doud, and Jennifer C. Simon are in charge of the case.
New OSHA Inspection Procedures and Enforcement Policies for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard
On June 25, OSHA published a field inspection and enforcement procedures designed to ensure uniformity when addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in the workplace. These two new expanded health standards, general industry/maritime (29 CFR 1910.1053) and construction (29 CFR 1926.1153), were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2016, and became effective June 23, 2016.
The two new standards adopted a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (μg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average. Except as noted below, general industry and maritime employers had until June 23, 2018, to comply with the requirements of 29 CFR § 1910.1053.
Beginning on June 23, 2018, general industry and maritime employers must have offered medical surveillance to employees who will be exposed above the PEL for 30 or more days a year. On June 23, 2020, this requirement expanded to include employees who would be exposed at or above the 25 μg/m3 action level (AL) for 30 or more days a year. Additionally, the obligation to implement engineering controls to limit exposures in hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry to the new PEL do not commence until June 23, 2021. Until that time, hydraulic fracturing employers must provide employees exposed to respirable crystalline silica in hydraulic fracturing operations with respiratory protection and ensure its use if employee exposures exceed the PEL.
Construction industry employers were scheduled to be in compliance with all the standard’s provisions, except for methods of sample analysis in paragraph (d)(2)(v), by June 23, 2017. However, on April 6, 2017, OSHA extended the initial compliance date to September 23, 2017. The compliance date for the methods of sample analysis requirements in paragraph (d)(2)(v) remain unchanged; as of June 23, 2018, construction industry employers must be in compliance with that provision.
CSB Guidance for Chemical Plants During Extreme Weather Events
In late June, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued a video safety message and a safety alert entitled “2020 Hurricane Season: Guidance for Chemical Plants During Extreme Weather Events.” The video and safety alert highlight recent actions by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) to produce industry guidance meant to help hazardous chemical facilities better prepare for extreme weather events.
CSB Chairman Katherine Lemos said, “As the nation faces this year’s hurricane season, it is critical that the chemical industry understand and prepare for the potential safety hazards posed by extreme weather events.”
On August 31, 2017, fires erupted at the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas, as a result of heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey. Plant equipment flooded and failed causing chemicals stored at the facility to decompose and burn, releasing fumes and smoke into the air. Twenty-one people sought medical attention from reported exposures to the fumes. More than 200 residents living nearby the facility were evacuated and could not return home for a week.
The CSB’s investigation found a significant lack of industry guidance on planning for flooding or other severe weather events,and called on CCPS to produce such guidance so that incidents like the one at the Arkema plant can be prevented. Recently, CCPS released that guidance, called “Assessment of and Planning for Natural Hazards,” which provides an updated approach for assessing natural hazards, means to address the hazards, and emergency planning.
Chairman Lemos said “I applaud CCPS for successfully fulfilling the CSB’s safety recommendation. The severe weather event at Arkema may not be an anomaly. In recent years, flooding has intensified across the country and experts predict this trend will continue. The CCPS guidance will help companies prepare for weather events.”
The CSB’s Safety Alert outlines specific procedures to assure safe restarts following a severe weather event. For example, facilities are urged to follow established startup procedures and checklists, and to recognize that "human performance may be compromised due to crisis conditions."
Additional safety protocols include checking bulk storage tanks for evidence of floating displacement or damage, and examining insulation systems, sewers, drains, furnace systems, electric motors and other equipment, including warning systems, to make sure they are fully functional.
The full video safety message and safety alert can be found at csb.gov.
The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  CSB investigations examine all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure or inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, csb.gov.
Consultant Sentenced for Forging Environmental Tests
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced a Twin Falls County man was sentenced Monday, June 22, for multiple offenses after doctoring environmental tests.
73-year-old Saiid S. Dabestani, of Twin Falls, pleaded guilty in October 2019 to four counts: forgery, offering false or forged instrument for record, computer crime and an environmental quality violation. All but the environmental quality violation are felonies.
Fifth District Court Judge Roger B. Harris sentenced Dabestani to a unified sentence of ten years with two years fixed for the forgery charge and granted withheld judgments on the remaining charges. The judge then suspended the sentences and placed Dabestani on eight years’ probation. He also ordered the defendant to pay court costs and $318,985 in restitution to seven former clients. The payments range from $3,881 to $176,037. The restitution amounts reflect the fees landowners paid Dabestani.
Dabestani owned Enviro-Mont Consulting, a soil and water remediation consulting firm. An investigation revealed he forged several lab reports by changing project names and testing results to facilitate his clients’ receipt of “Certificates of Completion” and/or “Site Closure Letters” from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
In at least one instance, Dabestani sent soil and water samples to a third party lab for testing. When he received the results, he altered them by reducing the concentration levels of multiple contaminants to ensure that they fell within DEQ’s acceptable screening levels.
Deputy Attorney General David Morse in the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Unit prosecuted the case.
Lakeside Foods in Owatonna Fined $11,225 Penalty for Wastewater Violations
Lakeside Foods, a producer of frozen and canned food products, has paid a civil penalty of $11,225 to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for environmental violations at its Owatonna facility. The facility has also taken corrective actions to prevent future violations.
A state inspection and file review found that Lakeside Foods violated the pollutant limits in its wastewater discharge permit 16 times during 2018 and 2019. The facility also allowed treated wastewater to drain off its property, into a ditch and onto an adjacent property. Lakeside Foods failed to report the spill to the State Duty Officer, as required by its permit.
MPCA permits are designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution emissions and discharges from facilities. When companies do not fully comply with permit requirements, the resulting pollution can be harmful to people and the environment.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account 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 economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.
Consumer Product Manufacturers Pay Nearly $2 Million for Air Quality Violations
The California Air Resources Board over the past 18 months settled 44 cases involving air quality violations by companies that manufactured consumer products that exceeded California’s limits for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The products ranged from solvents to hair sprays and air fresheners. These settlements mitigated more than 172 tons of excess VOC emissions and 24 tons of toxic air contaminant emissions.
VOCs are gases released from solid or liquid products, which contribute to ozone formation. Ozone, an element of smog, causes respiratory health effects including lung irritation, shortness of breath and coughing, and can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases.
As the initial step in the supply chain, manufacturers serve a critical role in formulating products that are compliant with California standards. Manufacturers are expected to be familiar with CARB regulations, to take sufficient quality control measures, and to label their products’ uses for the applicable category. Manufacturers must also consistently inform distributors and retailers of the products’ compliance.
“These products are used daily in almost every California household. Manufacturers don’t normally sell directly to consumers, but they do control product formulations. Manufacturers need to notify their sales partners of their products’ compliance status so that consumers are protected before the product is even sold,” explains CARB Enforcement Division Chief Todd Sax.
Cases settled in the past 18 months totaled $1,824,385. Of this, violators funded Supplemental Environmental Projects totaling $198,000, including Coalition for Clean Air, Environmental Justice Network, and the Kettleman City Asthma Intervention Program. Five of the case settlements exceeded $100,000, including a $600,000 settlement with W.M. Barr & Company Inc., and a $220,000 settlement with The Sherwin-Williams Company. Among the air quality violations by W.M. Barr, the Memphis, Tenn.-based company sold, supplied and offered for sale paint thinners and multi-purpose solvents, which contained concentrations of VOCs and aromatic compound content that exceeded California standards. The company’s violations, in total, resulted in excess emissions of close to 82 tons of VOCs, 8.4 tons of aromatic compounds and 5.2 tons of ozone-forming compounds into the atmosphere. The company stopped sales of noncompliant products and modified other products to meet California’s regulatory requirements.
Settlements since January 2019 involved the following manufacturers:
Settlement Amount
Manufacturers carry the greatest responsibility of supplying California with consumer products that comply with emission standards. Their diligence in the creation, importation, and distribution of products significantly impacts California’s air quality.
Navistar Settled Air Quality Violations for $2 Million
Truck manufacturer Navistar Inc. has paid $2 million to resolve allegations that it altered heavy-duty vehicle engines from their certified design, potentially causing excess diesel emissions and negatively impacting air quality.
The Illinois-based company modified its vehicle calibrations from their certified design through “running changes” in the engines of its heavy-duty trucks without notifying the California Air Resources Board that the changes were being made, as is required. The undocumented running changes were implemented on new vehicles in production and were also deployed to post-production vehicles in the field. An undocumented running change is an unauthorized change to a previously approved engine design, and is considered a violation because of its potential to affect engine performance leading to increases in smog-forming and toxic emissions. The violations were discovered during routine engine testing by CARB.
“Engine modifications are allowed when they are disclosed up front and fully evaluated to confirm there are no negative emissions impacts,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard W. Corey. “These design changes by Navistar differed significantly from what was approved for sale. The high penalty reflects how seriously we take this type of activity and underscores that efforts to circumvent the rules will be discovered and never end well for the manufacturers.”
The company was cooperative throughout CARB’s investigation and agreed to pay $1,013,400 (50%) to the Air Pollution Control Fund to support air quality research. The remaining half will be paid to the South Coast Air Quality Management District and will be used to install and maintain high-performance air filtration systems in Southern California schools, especially those located in disadvantaged communities disproportionately impacted by air pollution.
Diesel exhaust contains a variety of harmful gases and more than 40 other known cancer-causing compounds. In 1998, California identified diesel particulate matter as a toxic air contaminant based on its potential to cause cancer, premature death and other health problems.
Boomerang Rubber Inc. Cited for Exposing Employees to Machine and Electrical Hazards
OSHA cited Boomerang Rubber Inc. – based in Botkins, Ohio – with two willful and six serious violations for exposing employees to machine and electrical hazards. The company faces penalties of $330,269.
OSHA initiated an inspection under the Site-Specific Targeting Program for employers with higher than average injury and illness rates. The company failed to develop and implement lockout/tagout procedures to prevent employee exposure to unintentional machine movement during maintenance, and install machine guards. The company also failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment to prevent electric shock, train workers in safety procedures and properly label chemical containers.
“Employers are legally responsible for examining workplace conditions and correcting hazards, and providing employee training so that work will be performed in a safe and healthful manner,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.
“Employers must ensure their workers are trained in proper machine safety procedures and provided the necessary personal protective equipment to prevent injuries and illness on the job,” said OSHA Toledo Area Office Director Kimberly Nelson. “Continuous monitoring of facilities and procedures are important components of an effective safety and health program.”
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA’s webpage offers extensive resources on machine guarding and lockout/tagout procedures, as well as electrical safe work practices.
Wisconsin Animal Feed Production Facility Cited for Exposing Employees to Grain Dust and Equipment Hazards
OSHA has cited Furst-McNess Corp. – based in Lodi, Wisconsin – for exposing employees to potential grain dust explosions and other hazards at the feed mill facility. OSHA cited the company for one willful and two serious violations and faces $148,431 in penalties.
An OSHA investigation found the Furst-McNess Corp. failed to implement a housekeeping program to control and remove combustible dust accumulations that occur during storage of grain materials and manufacturing of animal feed. The agency also cited the company for failing to maintain grain-processing equipment.
“OSHA standards require that grain dust and ignition sources be controlled to protect workers from potentially catastrophic explosions,” said OSHA Madison Area Office Director Chad Greenwood.
OSHA’s Grain Handling webpage offers extensive resources for addressing the safety and health hazards associated with grain handling operations.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Cummins Power Generation, Inc. Paid $10,278 for Air Quality Violations at Generator Production Facility
Cummins Power Generation, Inc., has paid a $10,278 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for a series of air quality violations. The violations occurred between 2017 and 2019, at the company’s power generator production facility in Fridley.
Based on MPCA staff inspections, the company exceeded permitted air emissions limits several times between late 2017 and August 2019. Other violations included inadequate record keeping, no employee training program in its operations and maintenance (O&M) plan, and failure to properly document air quality control equipment inspection and maintenance.
In addition to paying the civil penalty, the company has completed a series of corrective actions, including updating its O&M plan to ensure proper staff training, recordkeeping, and inspection and maintenance documentation.
Missouri Contractor Cited After Employee Suffers Severe Injuries in Trench Collapse
OSHA has cited Unnerstall Contracting Company LLC for violations of OSHA’s trenching and excavation standards after an employee suffered severe injuries when a 20-foot trench collapsed during excavation of Creve Coeur Sanitary Sewer Trunk in Creve Coeur, Missouri. OSHA cited the Pacific, Missouri-based company for three willful and four serious violations, and faces penalties of $224,459. The agency has placed the company in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
OSHA cited the company for failing to utilize adequate trench protective systems, permitting employees to ride in the bucket of hydraulic excavators, and allowing water to accumulate in the floor of the trench. OSHA also cited the employer for failing to provide a safe means of egress from the trench, protect workers from struck-by hazards, and place excavated soil piles an adequate distance from trench edges.
“Excavating and trenching operations are among the most hazardous occupations in the construction industry,” said OSHA St. Louis Area Director Bill McDonald. “A trench collapse can happen in just seconds causing serious injuries just as quickly. Injuries can be prevented when employers train workers on excavation hazards and ensure required protections are in place before workers enter a trench as required by the OSHA standard.”
OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides resources to help employers and employees prevent trench cave-ins by sloping, shoring, or shielding trench walls.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Koda Energy to Pay $20,000 for Air Quality Violations at Biomass Energy Facility
Koda Energy, LLC, has agreed to pay a $20,000 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for a series of air-emission violations dating back to 2017, at its biomass energy generation facility in Shakopee. Koda Energy is an energy-production partnership between Rahr Malting and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
Violations included:
  • Total particulate matter emissions more than three times the amount allowed in its permit, at the biomass conveyance area
  • Emissions of PM10 (particles smaller than ten microns) more than three times its permitted limit at truck unloading station
  • Emissions of PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 microns) more than ten times its permitted limit at truck unloading station
Breathing these particles can cause health problems as they become attached in a person’s nose, throat, and lungs, and absorbed into the bloodstream. The smaller the particles, the deeper they can travel into the lungs. PM2.5 is generally described as fine particles. By way of comparison, a human hair is about 100 microns, so roughly 40 fine particles could be placed on its width.
In addition to paying the civil penalty, the company has completed a series of corrective actions to prevent further emissions violations.
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 to 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 July, 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.
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