August 09, 2021
On June 14, 2021, Christopher Jaramillo, president of Starlite Reclamation Environmental Services (Starlite), pleaded guilty to knowingly violating the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §§ 1317(d), 1319(c)(2)(A)). Jaramillo is the last individual to plead guilty in this case involving illegal industrial wastewater discharges. Jaramillo is scheduled for sentencing on September 20, 2021.
Starlite is a waste disposal service company that treated and disposed of industrial wastewater. As a wastewater treatment facility, companies hired Starlite to receive and treat their wastewater to ensure acceptable levels of pH and other chemical components are achieved prior to discharge into the publicly owned treatment works (POTW).
Between November 2014 and June 2015, Starlite employees Fernando Torres and Andrew Hucks, former vice president Robert Conn, and Jaramillo, repeatedly and routinely discharged acidic wastewater into the POTW operated by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, which flowed to a POTW operated by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. They discharged wastewater with an average pH of 3, below its permitted pH level of 5. The defendants tampered with monitoring devices by, among other things, placing pH probes in buckets of clean water.
Hucks and Torres pleaded guilty to negligent violations of the CWA and are scheduled for sentencing on October 18, 2021, and November 15, 2021, respectively. A court sentenced Conn in May 2021 to complete a four-year term of probation after pleading guilty to a knowingly violating the CWA (33 U.S.C. § 1317(d), § 1319(c)(2)(A)). Starlite is scheduled for trial to begin on October 21, 2021.
The EPA Criminal Investigation Division, the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, and the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, conducted the investigation.
Winery Fined for Confined Space Violations
Oregon OSHA has fined a custom crush winery $11,100 for violating job safety standards designed to protect workers from the hazards of confined spaces. The division cited Corus Estates & Vineyards LLC, in Dundee following an investigation into the death of a worker.
A confined space is one that meets all of the following conditions:
- It is large enough and so configured that an employee can fully enter the space and perform work
- It has limited or restricted means for entry, exit, or both
- It is not designed for continuous human occupancy
The investigation found that at approximately 10:30 a.m. Feb. 1, 2021, a cellar worker was discovered unresponsive in an empty 30,000-gallon wine tank. The employee was tasked with pumping out about 500 gallons of wine remnants known as lees – a mix of dead yeast, grape skins, seeds, stems, and tartrates – from the tank into a secondary tank for further processing. Low-pressure nitrogen gas was being pumped in from the top of the tank to prevent oxidation of the remnants.
The employee was asphyxiated as a result of the displacement of oxygen due to the low-pressure nitrogen gas in the tank. The vineyard was cited for:
- Not performing initial testing for atmospheric hazards before entry.
- Not ensuring that a required attendant and entry supervisor was designated for the permit confined space entry.
- Not developing procedures to ensure employees who are entering permit confined spaces with alternate entry procedures are following those procedures.
- Not ensuring that all confined space permits were reviewed after they were canceled. Several of the permits were not filled out and were missing required information.
- Not making sure all confined space entry permits included information about rescue services and how to contact them.
- Not having permit entry rescue procedures, including the process for contacting rescue services.
- Not conducting practice entry rescues for presses, tanks, and below-ground permit-required confined spaces.
- Not training employees on recognizing confined spaces or procedures necessary to safely enter a confined space before an employee’s assigned duties changed.
- Not ensuring that all employees, whose primary language was Spanish, were proficient in their assigned confined space duties.
“Every workplace death is a tragedy. And confined spaces are unforgiving. Employers must anticipate the risks and ensure that they protect their employees who enter confined spaces,” said Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood. “When something goes wrong in such a space, it is already too late to address the problem.”
2 Emergency Rules Protecting Workers Against Wildfire Smoke and Heat Adopted in Oregon
Moving to increase protections for workers against the effects of climate change, Oregon OSHA is adopting two new and distinct emergency rules. One puts protections in place against the hazards of wildfire smoke. Another establishes safeguards against high heat in employer-provided housing.
The wildfire smoke rule encompasses a variety of exposure controls, training and information, and other measures. The heat rule applies to occupants of housing provided by employers. It requires access to cooling areas and other steps to minimize dangerous heat in housing units.
Both rules take effect Aug. 9 and remain in effect for 180 days. The rules reflect those provisions Oregon OSHA believes can be put in place immediately and are based largely on input from labor and employer stakeholders.
“These rules underscore our ongoing work to bolster Oregon’s ability to protect workers from extraordinary hazards that have been exacerbated by climate change,” said Andrew Stolfi, director of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, which includes Oregon OSHA. “Wildfire smoke and extreme heat continue to pose threats to our communities. Those threats are not going away. And that is why we must act.”
“These latest measures reflect our long-standing mission of advancing protections for all Oregon workers,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “That mission is even more important now in light of the unprecedented challenges to worker safety.”
“We believe these rules provide better safeguards for workers,” Wood added, “and create greater clarity for employers as they move forward.”
The two temporary rules follow Oregon OSHA’s July 8 adoption of emergency requirements to prevent heat illness in outdoor and indoor workplaces. In addition to its enforcement tools, Oregon OSHA offers employers free consultations
and expert advice
to help comply with the requirements. Meanwhile, the division continues to develop a permanent wildfire smoke rule with an eye toward adoption this fall. Also, it is working on permanent protections involving housing provided by employers.
Protection from wildfire smoke
The wildfire smoke rule applies to employers whose employees are – or will be – exposed to wildfire smoke where the ambient air concentration for fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5) is at or above an Air Quality Index
(AQI) 101, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Sensitive groups include people with lung and heart problems; children younger than 18 and adults older than 65; pregnant women; and people with diabetes.
Workplaces and operations that are exempt from the rule include enclosed buildings in which the air is filtered by a mechanical ventilation system and enclosed vehicles in which the air is filtered by a cabin air filter. In both cases, doors and windows must be closed, except when it is necessary to enter or leave.
Information and training
- Beginning Aug. 16, 2021, employers must ensure workers who may be exposed to AQI 101 have been trained in a manner and language they understand.
- Such training must include the following topics:
- The potential health effects of wildfire smoke, including increased risk of health effects to sensitive groups
- The symptoms of exposure, including burning sensations in the eyes; runny nose, sore throat, cough, and difficulty breathing; and fatigue, headache, and chest pain
- How employees can get the current and forecasted AQI level
- How to operate and interpret any air quality monitoring device provided by the employer
- The employer’s methods to protect workers from wildfire smoke
- Emergency response procedures
- The employee’s right to report health issues and obtain medical treatment without fear of retaliation
- Two-way communication system for wildfire smoke hazards
- The importance, limitations, and benefits of using filtering facepiece respirators when provided by the employer, and how to properly put them on
- Before workers are exposed to an AQI 101, employers must develop and implement a system to communicate wildfire smoke hazards, including:
- Notifying employees when the worksite’s ambient air concentration is at or above AQI 101
- Giving notification when ambient air concentration is at or above an AQI 201, which involves very unhealthy air quality with the risk of health effects increased for everyone.
- Notifying employees when the ambient air concentration is at or above an AQI 500.
- Notifying employees when the ambient air concentration drops below levels requiring protective measures.
- Whenever feasible, employers must use engineering or administrative controls to reduce employee exposure to less than AQI 201. Engineering controls include enclosed buildings or vehicles where the air can be adequately filtered. Administrative controls include relocating work to another outdoor location with better air quality or changing work schedules.
- Whenever employee exposure exceeds AQI 201, even after the use of engineering or administrative controls – or both – employers must ensure workers wear filtering facepiece respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). Such respirators include what is commonly known as an N95.
- Whenever employee exposure exceeds an AQI 101, employers must maintain an adequate supply of NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators that effectively protect wearers. Such respirators must be provided at no cost and be readily available for voluntary use to all exposed workers at their request.
- For the 2021 season, KN95s previously approved under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization can be substituted for NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators for exposures below an AQI 499. For exposures at AQI 500 and above, NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators must be used.
Meanwhile, Oregon OSHA is coordinating with several partners on the distribution of respirators. That coordination includes working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Home Builders Association, the Associated General Contractors Oregon Columbia Chapter, and Hoffman Construction.
Employer-provided housing heat rule
- Cooling areas. If rooms where people sleep are not able to maintain an indoor temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit or less, then employers must provide an area for occupants to cool off whenever the heat index outside the housing is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooling areas – large enough to accommodate at least 50 percent of the occupants at any one time – can use a combination of these two approaches but employers are encouraged to provide at least some of the required space indoors.
- Giving occupants continual access to one or more common rooms maintain at or below 78 degrees Fahrenheit (using air conditioners, evaporative coolers, air purifiers with coolers, or other reliable means).
- Giving occupants continual access to outdoor rest areas, away from work areas or activities that could cause a hazard. Rest areas must be shaded; provide water misters, cooling vests, or equally effective means of relief; and provide adequate seating.
- Minimizing heat in housing units. If rooms where people sleep are not able to maintain an indoor temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit or less, employers must take steps, including:
- Maximizing the ability to keep housing cool by ensuring windows can be protected from direct sunlight during all hours of the day – through the use of artificial or natural shade – including coverings to deflect radiant heat from the sun
- Making fans available at no cost for any occupants who want to use them
- Temperature awareness. Employers must provide a thermometer that displays the temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius in each housing unit.
- In addition to training for employees and supervisors about the dangers of heat illness, employers must display the “Heat Risks in Housing” poster provided by Oregon OSHA so occupants can see it. The poster is available in both English and Spanish.
- Access to emergency services. Employers must ensure occupants have access to a working telephone to contact emergency services.
Updated NIOSH/OSHA Handbook Small Business
The Small Business Safety and Health Handbook
highlights the benefits of implementing an effective safety and health program, provides self-inspection checklists for employers to identify workplace hazards and review important workplace safety and health resources for small businesses.
“The revised Small Business Handbook is a valuable tool to help employers identify where to take action to make their workplaces safer and more healthful for their employees,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “Safety has to be a continuous process that involves preventing injuries and illnesses, and saving lives.”
The handbook includes self-inspection checklists for various work processes in general industry workplaces, such as fire protection, hazard communication, permit-required confined spaces, respiratory protection and walking-working surfaces. The checklists are not intended for construction or maritime industries.
“Small businesses face many unique challenges and providing a safe and healthy work environment shouldn’t be one of them,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “The updated Small Business Handbook is an easy-to-use tool to help keep your most valuable asset —your employees— safe and healthy on the job.”
A section of the handbook lists OSHA and NIOSH resources available to help employers recognize and correct safety and health hazards in their workplace, including the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program. The handbook also gives employers information on whistleblower protection laws, training through OSHA’s education centers and professional occupational safety and health associations with local chapters that small businesses can join.
It’s Here, Safe + Sound Week: August 9–15
Safe + Sound Week is a nationwide event held each August that recognizes the successes of workplace health and safety programs and offers information and ideas on how to keep America's workers safe.
Successful safety and health programs can proactively identify and manage workplace hazards before they cause injury or illness, improving sustainability and the bottom line. Participating in Safe + Sound Week can help get your program started, energize an existing one, or provide a chance to recognize your safety successes.
Any organizations looking for an opportunity to recognize their commitment to safety are welcome to participate. Last year, more than 3,400 businesses helped to raise awareness about workers' health and safety.
Employer Willfully Bypassed Safety Measures that Led to Worker’s Fatal Electrocution
In the early afternoon of March 2, 2021, a 44-year-old electrical technician at an Orlando work site climbed down into a trench to splice electrical wires to power streetlights. Not long after, the worker made contact with live wires and suffered fatal electrocution, a death that OSHA investigators deemed avoidable had the employer taken required safety measures.
OSHA’s investigation led the agency to cite United Signs & Signals Inc. – operating as US&S – with two willful violations for exposing workers to electrical-shock hazards by failing to de-energize or guard circuits and exposing workers to cave-in hazards by neglecting to ensure the use of protective measures to safeguard employees. OSHA also cited US&S with two serious violations for not ensuring workers had a safe means to exit excavations and allowing employees to work in a trench with accumulated water.
“A man is dead because of US&S’s willful indifference toward protecting its workers,” said OSHA Area Office Director Michelle Gonzalez in Jacksonville, Florida. “This terrible loss should remind employers that safety measures are never optional, and the consequences for ignoring them can be fatal.”
Based in Tavares, US&S is a contractor specializing in lighting and the design, construction and installation of roadway and highway signs.
New Material Offers Ecofriendly Solution to Converting Waste Heat into Energy
Perseverance, NASA’s 2020 Mars rover, is powered by something very desirable here on Earth: a thermoelectric device, which converts heat to useful electricity.
On Mars, the heat source is the radioactive decay of plutonium, and the device’s conversion efficiency is 4-5%. That’s good enough to power Perseverance and its operations but not quite good enough for applications on Earth.
A team of scientists from Northwestern University and Seoul National University in Korea now has demonstrated a high-performing thermoelectric material in a practical form that can be used in device development. The material — purified tin selenide in polycrystalline form — outperforms the single-crystal form in converting heat to electricity, making it the most efficient thermoelectric system on record. The researchers were able to achieve the high conversion rate after identifying and removing an oxidation problem that had degraded performance in earlier studies.
The polycrystalline tin selenide could be developed for use in solid-state thermoelectric devices in a variety of industries, with potentially enormous energy savings. A key application target is capturing industrial waste heat — such as from power plants, the automobile industry and glass- and brick-making factories — and converting it to electricity. More than 65% of the energy produced globally from fossil fuels is lost as waste heat.
“Thermoelectric devices are in use, but only in niche applications, such as in the Mars rover,” said Northwestern’s Mercouri Kanatzidis, a chemist who specializes in the design of new materials. “These devices have not caught on like solar cells, and there are significant challenges to making good ones. We are focusing on developing a material that would be low cost and high performance and propel thermoelectric devices into more widespread application.”
Details of the thermoelectric material and its record-high performance was published Aug. 2 in the journal Nature Materials
Thermoelectric devices are already well defined, says Kanatzidis, but what makes them work well or not is the thermoelectric material inside. One side of the device is hot and the other side cold. The thermoelectric material lies in the middle. Heat flows through the material, and some of the heat is converted to electricity, which leaves the device via wires.
The material needs to have extremely low thermal conductivity while still retaining good electrical conductivity to be efficient at waste heat conversion. And because the heat source could be as high as 400-500 degrees Celsius, the material needs to be stable at very high temperatures. These challenges and others make thermoelectric devices more difficult to produce than solar cells.
In 2014, Kanatzidis and his team reported the discovery of a surprising material that was the best in the world at converting waste heat to useful electricity: the crystal form of the chemical compound tin selenide. While an important discovery, the single-crystal form is impractical for mass production because of its fragility and tendency to flake.
Tin selenide in polycrystalline form, which is stronger and can be cut and shaped for applications, was needed, so the researchers turned to studying the material in that form. In an unpleasant surprise, they found the material’s thermal conductivity was high, not the desirable low level found in the single-crystal form.
“We realized something diabolical was happening,” Kanatzidis said. “The expectation was that tin selenide in polycrystalline form would not have high thermal conductivity, but it did. We had a problem.”
Upon closer examination, the researchers discovered a skin of oxidized tin on the material. Heat flowed through the conductive skin, increasing the thermal conductivity, which is undesirable in a thermoelectric device.
After learning that the oxidation came from both the process itself and the starting materials, the Korean team found a way to remove the oxygen. The researchers then could produce tin selenide pellets with no oxygen, which they then tested.
The true thermal conductivity of the polycrystalline form was measured and found to be lower, as originally expected. Its performance as a thermoelectric device, converting heat to electricity, exceeded that of the single crystal form, making it the most efficient on record.
The efficiency of waste heat conversion in thermoelectrics is reflected by its “figure of merit,” a number called ZT. The higher the number, the better the conversion rate. The ZT of single-crystal tin selenide earlier was found to be approximately 2.2 to 2.6 at 913 Kelvin. In this new study, the researchers found the purified tin selenide in polycrystalline form had a ZT of approximately 3.1 at 783 Kelvin. Its thermal conductivity was ultralow, lower than the single-crystals.
“This opens the door for new devices to be built from polycrystalline tin selenide pellets and their applications explored,” Kanatzidis said.
Northwestern owns the intellectual property for the tin selenide material. Potential areas of application for the thermoelectric material include the automobile industry (a significant amount of gasoline’s potential energy goes out of a vehicle’s tailpipe), heavy manufacturing industries (such as glass and brick making, refineries, coal- and gas-fired power plants) and places where large combustion engines operate continuously (such as in large ships and tankers).
OSHA Regional Emphasis Program Will Target Transportation Tank Cleaning Industry
An Ohio worker tasked with cleaning a chemical tanker trailer collapsed upon entering the tank. Answering the employee’s call for help, a nearby truck driver entered the tank. Both workers succumbed to fatal toxic fumes.
In Illinois, a worker opened the lid of a tanker trailer containing toluene and was found a short time later lying across the open dome and unresponsive. Rushed to a nearby hospital, he survived after being treated for respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
The double fatality and serious injury are among the 23 worker deaths and 97 incidents that OSHA’s Chicago region has investigated in the transportation and tank cleaning industries since 2016. While investigating these tragedies, the most common violations OSHA found included failure to prevent the inhalation of harmful substances and to follow procedures for permit-required confined space requirements
Reducing the risks tank cleaning workers face has led the Chicago regional office to establish a Regional Emphasis Program
. The program will focus on employers in industries typically engaged in tank cleaning activities, including trucking, rail and road transportation, remediation services, material recovery and waste management services.
“OSHA often finds employers who use transportation tanks fail to test atmospheric conditions inside the tankers, complete confined space entry permits and use adequate respiratory protection before allowing cleaning workers to enter,” said OSHA’s Acting Regional Administrator William Donovan in Chicago. “These companies can prevent injury, illness or worse by implementing safety and health programs and training workers to identify hazardous conditions and use required protective measures to protect workers from harm.”
The initial phase of this Regional Emphasis Program will include informational mailings to employers, professional associations, local safety councils, apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, as well as presentations by OSHA to industry organizations and stakeholders. Following its three-month outreach, the program empowers OSHA to schedule and inspect targeted industries in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin and those under federal jurisdiction in Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.
Transportation tanks on trucks or railcars must be cleaned and inspected before refilling with the same or different commodity for transport. Workers who clean these tanks between uses face many serious and potentially deadly hazards caused by toxic fumes from chemicals, decaying crops, waste and other substances that can expose workers to suffocation, fires and explosions.
OSHA encourages industry employers to take steps to identify, reduce and eliminate hazards related to confined spaces
and implement noise safety strategies during the Regional Emphasis Program’s initial phase. The agency urges employers to use its free consultation services for advice on complying with OSHA standards.
$35 Million in Criminal Fines and Civil Penalties for Largest-Ever Inland Spill of Produced Water from Oil Drilling
The Department of Justice filed criminal charges under the Clean Water Act against Summit Midstream Partners LLC, a North Dakota pipeline company that discharged 29 million gallons of produced water from its pipeline near Williston, North Dakota, over the course of nearly five months in 2014-2015. The discharge of more than 700,000 barrels of “produced water” – a waste product of hydraulic fracturing – contaminated land, groundwater, and over 30 miles of tributaries of the Missouri River. The spill, believed to be the largest inland spill in history, was visible in photographs taken by satellites orbiting the earth.
In addition to the criminal charges, the United States and the State of North Dakota filed a civil complaint against Summit and a related company, Meadowlark Midstream Company LLC, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and North Dakota water pollution control laws. Under parallel settlements resolving the criminal and civil cases, the company has agreed to pay a total of $35 million in criminal fines and civil penalties.
“The defendant did not immediately notify authorities and failed to timely identify and abate the ongoing release, resulting in the largest inland produced water spill in U.S. history,” said Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Lawrence Starfield. “In addition to substantial penalties, EPA and our state and federal partners required Summit to clean up the contamination caused by the spill, and perform pipeline testing, control room monitoring, and third-party auditing, to safeguard our rivers, lakes and streams and the communities that depend on them.”
“Summit prioritized profits over the environment. The company’s disregard for pipeline safety resulted in pollution of the environment on a massive scale over 143 days,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Summit’s conduct was criminal and its failure to immediately report the discharge a felony. This resolution holds the company financially accountable, requires enhanced compliance measures to prevent future spills, and provides compensation for North Dakota’s damaged natural resources.”
“North Dakota and its federal partners are holding Summit and Meadowlark accountable and making clear that disregard for North Dakota’s environmental laws will not be tolerated,” said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. “The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, Game and Fish Department, and Industrial Commission staff spent countless hours investigating and responding to the spill, making this settlement possible.”
If the court accepts the plea agreement, Summit will pay $15 million in federal criminal fines for negligently causing the continuous spill, failing to stop it and deliberately failing to make an immediate report as required.
“Summit’s negligence included the design, construction and operation of the Marmon Water Gathering System pipeline, as well as the negligent failure to find and stop the spill after learning of objective signs of a leak,” according to a factual admission signed by the company and filed in court. Summit started pipeline operations without meters at both ends of the pipeline to conduct “line balancing” or otherwise having a reliable leak detection system in place. “Even after the company learned of major drops in pressure and volume – objective signs of a leak – the company negligently continued operations and thus caused millions of additional gallons to be discharged into U.S. waters without learning the cause or pausing operations,” according to the Joint Factual Statement.
Summit has further admitted that it knowingly did not share all relevant information regarding the volume and duration of the spill and that its reports to federal and state authorities “were incomplete and misleading,” in papers filed in court. Summit eventually reported 70,000 barrels over a 10-day period despite an internal analysis showing the discharge was more than 700,000 barrels over 143 days. Under the terms of the proposed plea agreement, Summit will serve three years of probation in which comprehensive remedial measures are required.
Under the proposed civil settlement, Summit, Meadowlark, and a third related company, Summit Operating Services Company LLC, will pay $20 million in civil penalties, perform comprehensive injunctive relief, clean up the contamination caused by the spill and pay $1.25 million in natural resource damages to resolve the civil case. Summit has spent over $50 million to date to clean up the spill under state oversight; ongoing remediation efforts under the civil settlement are expected to continue over the next several years. The civil settlement further requires Summit and Meadowlark to take concrete steps to prevent future discharges, including stringent pipeline installation, operation, and testing requirements; a centralized computational pipeline monitoring system; spill response planning and countermeasures; an environmental management system; and data management and training measures. Independent third-party audits are required to ensure that certain injunctive measures are properly developed and implemented. These compliance measures were made a condition of Summit’s probation in the proposed criminal plea agreement. The companies have also agreed to enter into a related administrative settlement with the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
Summit continued pumping produced water through the pipeline in 2014 to 2015 despite multiple warning signs that the line had ruptured:
- 17, 2014. Real-time pressure data collected by Summit showed a significant pressure drop, indicating a rupture had occurred.
- 14, 2014: Summit’s construction manager raised a concern about “extreme low pressure on the pipeline.” The facilities engineer responded: “Not good. We may want to consider shutting it down.” Summit continued to operate the line.
- 4, 2014: the third-party operator of the injection well at the end of the pipeline (Company A) informed Summit that 115,000 barrels (4,830,000 gallons) of produced water were missing for the month of October, which is approximately 3,700 barrels (155,400 gallons) per day.
- 3, 10, and 16, 2014: Company A followed up with Summit about the produced water discrepancy, having received no response to its previous inquiries. During this time, Company A confirmed the accuracy of its injection well meters and informed Summit that the discrepancy had risen to 4,900 barrels per day.
- 6, 2015: A Summit employee walked the line, finally identifying the rupture.
The resulting 700,000-barrel discharge of produced water contained crude oil, chloride, sodium, ammonia, aluminum, arsenic, boron, copper, nickel, selenium, zinc, barium, benzene and thallium, among other contaminants. Produced water is a waste product of oil extraction and can be toxic to plants, fish and other aquatic wildlife. It is also harmful to humans.
The designated federal trustee is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, and the designated state trustees are the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish. A Draft Restoration Plan outlining the trustees’ restoration projects will be available here
. The Draft Restoration Plan is subject to a 30-day public comment period. The civil settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It will be available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees
The criminal case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell, Senior Trial Attorney Christopher J. Costantini, Trial Attorneys Stephen J. Foster and Erica H. Pencak of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resource Division (ENRD), and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme. The federal civil case is being handled by Senior Attorney Laura A. Thoms and Trial Attorney Devon A. Ahearn of the Environmental Enforcement Section of ENRD. The state civil case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Margaret I. Olson of the North Dakota Office of Attorney General.
The criminal investigation was conducted by EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, EPA Region 8, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish provided assistance to both the criminal and civil investigations.
EPA to Overhaul Pollution Standards for Passenger Vehicles and Heavy-Duty Trucks, Paving Way for Zero-Emission Future
EPA has proposed to set robust federal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks to secure pollution reductions through Model Year (MY) 2026. The proposal, which revises standards set by the previous administration, also outlines the Agency’s plans to initiate a subsequent rulemaking to set standards for MY 2027 and beyond, to speed the transition of the light-duty vehicle fleet toward a zero emissions future. In addition, EPA announced plans to update air pollution standards for heavy-duty vehicles.
The proposal would get EPA’s clean cars program back on track using technology available to make vehicles cleaner and to encourage more hybrid and electric vehicle technology. The proposed 2023-2026 MY light-duty standards
would achieve significant GHG and other pollution reductions and related public health and welfare benefits, while providing drivers with lower operating costs resulting from significant fuel savings.
“Today, EPA takes a major step forward in delivering on President Biden’s ambitious agenda to address the climate crisis and create good paying, union jobs,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “These robust standards are underpinned by sound science and technical expertise, encouraging the development of technology and innovation that will drive America forward into a clean energy future. We are excited about building on the partnerships with states, cities, industry, labor, and NGO stakeholders to realize this vision together.”
To revise the previous administration’s standards, which undercut public health, consumer, and environmental benefits, under its “SAFE” rule in 2020, the proposal would establish more stringent standards for each model year starting in 2023. The proposed standards drive 10 percent greater emissions improvement than the SAFE rule standards for MY 2023 vehicles and then 5 percent greater emissions improvement each year after. For MY 2026, the proposed standards would be the most robust federal GHG standards in U.S. history.
EPA estimates that this proposal would result in 2.2 billion tons of avoided CO2 emissions through 2050. The cumulative emissions avoided through 2050 are roughly equal to one year’s worth of GHG emissions from all petroleum combustion in the U.S. in 2019. Those avoided emissions would provide between $86 and $140 billion in net benefits for Americans. The benefits result from reduced impacts from climate change including harm to human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and changes to agricultural productivity. Further, American drivers would save between $120 to $250 billion in fuel costs through 2050. With these fuel savings, consumers would benefit from reduced operating costs over the vehicles’ lifetimes.
With this action, EPA is responding to President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis” (January 20, 2021), and is taking a decisive first step in reestablishing the U.S. auto industry as the global leader in clean vehicle technology.
EPA’s analysis shows that manufacturers would be able to comply with these stronger standards using technology that is already used in today’s vehicles including technologies that improve efficiency of internal combustion vehicles, with modest increases in the numbers of electric vehicles entering the fleet. These standards provide adequate lead time for manufacturers to comply with reasonable costs.
Separately, EPA announced plans
to reduce GHG emissions and other harmful air pollutants from heavy-duty trucks. The agency is working on a series of major rulemakings over the next three years. The first rulemaking, to be finalized in 2022, will apply to heavy duty vehicles starting in MY 2027. That action will set new standards for criteria pollutants for the entire sector as well as targeted upgrades to the current “Phase 2” GHG emissions standards for that model year. A second rule would set more robust GHG emission standards for new heavy-duty vehicles sold as soon as MY 2030 and beyond.
“Pollution from trucks has been a long-standing obstacle to advancing environmental justice, as many low-income and minority communities live near highways or in heavily polluted areas with frequent truck congestion and idling,” said Administrator Regan. “EPA is committed to walking our talk and delivering tangible benefits to historically underserved and overburdened communities. Setting clear and stringent standards for truck pollution is critical to delivering on this commitment.”
Taken together, these announcements would set the U.S. on a course to achieve aggressive GHG and other harmful pollutant emissions reductions from highway transportation over the long term, paving the way for deploying rapidly developing trends toward zero-emission technologies and the substantial improvements in air quality they will make possible.
$127,000 EPA Penalty for Risk Management Violations Related to Ammonia Storage
EPA announced a settlement with Praxair Inc., now known as Linde Inc., for violations of federal chemical release prevention
and reporting requirements
at its carbon dioxide liquification plant. The company will pay a $127,000 civil penalty and make safety improvements to its Carson, California facility to protect the public and first responders from dangerous chemicals.
The company’s Carson facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia and other chemicals. Exposure to high concentrations of anhydrous ammonia can lead to serious lung damage and even death.
“Reducing risks from accidental releases of hazardous substances at industrial and chemical facilities is a top priority for EPA,” said Amy Miller, EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Director of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “It is very important for facilities that store dangerous materials like anhydrous ammonia to understand the risks of this hazardous chemical and maintain a safe operation.”
Following a release of anhydrous ammonia in January 2019, Praxair failed to immediately notify the National Response Center, in violation of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, ultimately reporting the release several hours after it occurred.
EPA also found that Praxair violated multiple chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act, which requires that facilities storing more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia are properly designed, operated, and maintained to minimize the risk of an accidental release. In addition, EPA found that Praxair failed to: properly label the facility’s process and emergency equipment; have proper emergency controls; replace damaged or missing insulation; properly seal doors; and protect electrical equipment with proper coverings.
Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances, including anhydrous ammonia. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities—historically about 150 each year—result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and other harm to human health and the environment. EPA inspected the Praxair facility as part of the agency’s National Compliance Initiative
. The goal of this initiative is to reduce risk to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of accidental releases at facilities such as anhydrous ammonia refrigeration facilities.
DOE to Repeal Dishwasher Rule
The Department of Energy (DOE) has moved to repeal a Trump-era rule
that allowed certain new dishwashers to be made and sold without any limits on energy and water consumption.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed suit
in December of 2020 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to stop the illegal rule that created a new product class for dishwashers, but failed to establish any limits on energy and water consumption for that class, effectively evading existing energy and water efficiency standards.
“The reversal of this senseless action will close an illegal loophole that would have undermined the nation’s highly successful energy efficiency standards program, a program that saves consumers money and reduces dangerous power plant emissions,” said NRDC energy efficiency advocate Joe Vukovich.
The agency also announced plans to reverse the similar exemption
for quick-cycle clothes washers and clothes dryers. That rule created a “short-cycle” class for new clothes washers and dryers to effectively ignore current efficiency standards.
Settlement Addresses Alleged Hazardous Waste Violations at US Technology Site in Fort Smith, Ark.
EPA Region 6 recently announced a settlement regarding alleged hazardous waste violations at the US Technology Corporation (UST) site in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The settlement alleges several companies generated hazardous waste that was proposed for recycling but was instead stored by the owner and operator of UST without a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit. The 10 Respondents to the case are cooperating fully with EPA to remove over five million pounds of hazardous waste from the UST site, which is located in a community with environmental justice concerns. Because the site is less than half a mile from a residential area and next to the flood-prone Arkansas River, it was important to remove the waste as quickly as possible following the finalization of the settlement to protect area residents and the environment, especially ahead of the most active period of hurricane season.
“Today’s settlement reflects EPA’s commitment to protect human health and the environment by ensuring compliance with state and federal environmental laws,” said Acting Regional Administrator David Gray. “Through this settlement, EPA demonstrates that it will hold companies responsible for failing to take necessary steps to dispose of hazardous waste properly and prevent contamination near vulnerable communities.”
In April 2018, EPA’s investigation of the UST facility found a warehouse containing an estimated 10,000 drums and 1,200 super sacks of waste which contains a blend of spent, blast, and related material that when recycled is used to make concrete products known as SBM, totaling about 6,854,400 pounds of material. EPA inspectors collected samples of the stored waste for laboratory analysis, which found the samples to be hazardous waste for lead, chromium, and cadmium. Therefore, the waste was subject to hazardous waste regulations under RCRA, which require a generator of hazardous waste to be responsible for the waste from cradle to grave, including ensuring the waste is legally recycled or disposed.
Throughout the settlement process, EPA worked closely with the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment’s Division of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). While dozens of companies’ hazardous waste was stored improperly at the UST facility, the 10 Respondents agreed to work with EPA to remove quantities of waste, beyond their allocated amounts, to prevent potential environmental impacts. Under the settlement, Respondents will remove the majority of the waste, including waste that had been generated by companies that EPA could not locate or are currently out of business. EPA will continue to work with any other RCRA generators to remove the remaining drums while this settlement addresses the removal of nearly 80% of the waste in a timely manner.
The settlement was structured to allow for removal of the hazardous waste to prevent any harm to human health and the environment, and specifically at this time in anticipation of the most active period of hurricane season. Because the super sack containers have begun degrading, those have been prioritized for removal. To expedite the cleanup, Respondents agreed to use a single contractor to remove the waste. In preparation for the removal activities, on July 16, 2021, ADEQ’s staff conducted a site visit and documented the current state of the warehouse, the material, the surrounding perimeter of the warehouse, and the enclosure of the property by a secured gate to establish a baseline of the site’s conditions prior to the start of cleanup activities.
The 10 Respondents to the case who are working to remove the hazardous waste are: National Oilwell Varco L.P.; VSE Corporation; American Airlines, Inc.; Solar Turbines Incorporated; Goodrich Corporation; AAR Landing Gear Corporation; AV Task, Inc.; Varec Biogas, Inc.; Honeywell International, Inc.; and Kansas Dry Stripping, Inc.
Blatant Asbestos Violations
On June 8, 2021, Kristofer Landell and Madeline Alonge pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) and to defraud the government for their involvement in a large illegal demolition project (18 U.S.C. § 371). Stephanie Laskin pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the CAA (18 U.S.C. § 371). Gunay Yakup and Roger Osterhoudt pleaded guilty to conspiracy and CAA misdemeanor charges, respectively (18 U.S.C. § 371, 42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(4)). Osterhoudt is scheduled for sentencing on September 28, 2021. Landell and Laskin are set for October 6, 2021, and Yakup and Alonge are set for October 18, 2021.
Between May and August 2016, the five participated in a large demolition project, involving numerous buildings located on a 258-acre industrial property. The buildings contained substantial amounts of regulated asbestos-containing material (RACM).
During the project, Laskin, Yakup, Landell and Alonge (all of whom possessed specialized asbestos abatement supervisor training) violated multiple National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, Occupational Safety and Heath, and local environmental standards including: failing to operate functioning decontamination units; conducting asbestos removal operations without access to sufficient water; failing to provide handlers with adequate personal protective equipment; failing to wet RACM; dropping RACM from substantial heights causing visible emissions when the material hit the floor; and spraying water into bagged and dry RACM to mislead inspectors.
Landell used his air and project monitoring company to create "final air clearances," notwithstanding the presence of ongoing violations. He also took the lead in concealing the illegal asbestos abatement activities by fabricating paperwork, altering existing paperwork, and running interference when inspectors arrived at the site.
Osterhoudt (the vice president of the entity that owned the site), repeatedly pressed the abatement workers to accelerate their pace of work despite knowing that they were already receiving notices of violation from the New York State Department of Labor.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, and the New York Departments of Labor and Environmental Conservation conducted the investigation.
Various AeonAir, Danby and De'Longhi Dehumidifiers Recalled Due to Fire Hazard
This recall involves various AeonAir, Danby (Danby Premiere, Danby Generations, Danby Classic, Danby ArcticAire), and De’Longhi brand dehumidifiers. The UPC code and serial number can be found at the back of the dehumidifier on the rating label. The dehumidifiers, which werermade in China, can overheat, posing a fire hazard.
As of July 14, 2021 the company has received 2 reports of incidents in Canada, that resulted in fire and/or smoke damage to property. No incidents of injury were reported in Canada. In the United States, the company has received 107 reports of incidents that resulted in fire and/or smoke damage to property. No incidents of injury have been reported in the United States. In Mexico, the company has received no reports of incidents or injuries.
Up to 2,103,028 million units were sold in the United States, 413,915 units in Canada, and approximately 25,659 units were sold in Mexico 2009 to 2017.
Affected dehumidifier model numbers, UPC codes and serial numbers can be found on the New Widetech’s recall website
They Got What They Deserved
On June 14, 2021, a court sentenced Jeremiah Young to time served, followed by three years’ supervised release, after pleading guilty to violating the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C §§ 1317(d), 1319(c)(2)(A)).
Between 2014 and 2016, American Biodiesel d/b/a/Community Fuels employed Jeremiah Young as an assistant operator. His brother, Christopher Young, directed the plant’s operations between March 2009 and December 2016.
Community Fuels manufactured biodiesel fuel. Regulators permitted the company to discharge wastewater meeting certain parameters (including pH and methanol concentration total flow levels) to the local publicly owned treatment works (POTW). The company led local authorities to believe that it transferred unpermitted wastewater off-site to an appropriate wastewater disposal facility. In reality, employees dispersed the wastewater on the facility grounds via landscaping sprinklers, as well as illegally discharging it to the POTW, after tampering with monitoring devices. Both Jeremiah and Christopher Young participated in this scheme, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of gallons illegally discharged into the local sewer system.
A court sentenced Community Fuels in July 2019 to pay a $400,000 fine, and complete a three-year term of probation, to include implementing an environmental compliance plan. The company also must grant 24-hour access of the premises to authorities for unannounced inspections. The court further ordered the company to pay $256,206 in restitution divided between the City of Stockton and the Port of Stockton, California. Community Fuels pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tampering with monitoring
Federal-State Settlement Resolves Environmental Violations at Hussey Copper Smelting Facility in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania
Hussey Copper has agreed to perform a comprehensive environmental audit, implement an updated environmental management system, and pay an $861,500 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA
) and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law (PCSL
) at its smelting facility in Leetsdale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
The civil complaint, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and filed simultaneously with the settlement, alleges violations of the CWA and PCSL that threaten to degrade receiving streams and impact public health and harm aquatic life. These include chronic exceedances of effluent limits in the facility’s PADEP-issued CWA permit -- limiting oil sheens and discharges of copper, chromium, nickel, oil and grease, lead, pH, total suspended solids and zinc.
“This settlement reaffirms that industrial polluters must do the necessary work to ensure that their operations are not causing harm to our nation’s waterways,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are happy to have partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ensure the continued protection of the Ohio River.”
“This agreement holds Hussey Copper accountable for the impact their actions have had on the health of the Ohio River,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “We will continue to work with our partners to enforce the laws enacted to protect our region’s abundant natural resources.
“Today’s settlement improves water quality for the citizens of Leetsdale and surrounding communities,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This agreement requires Hussey to address their existing environmental violations, as well as implement plans to address any future noncompliance.”
Under the settlement, along with payment of the penalty, Hussey Copper will:
- Conduct a comprehensive review of its wastewater treatment system.
- Hire third-party consultants to conduct a compliance audit and implement corrective measures.
- Hire third-party consultants to review, update, and audit compliance with the facility’s environmental management system.
- Implement a process to prevent and correct violations of permit effluent limits.
- Conduct annual compliance training of employees and contractors.
- Pay agreed-upon penalties on demand for future violations.
PADEP has assisted EPA in the investigation and litigation of this case and is a co-plaintiff and signatory to the proposed consent decree. Under the settlement, penalty funds will be distributed evenly between the United States and PADEP.
Prior to this settlement, Hussey Copper was ordered to pay a criminal fine
of $550,000 and to serve three years’ probation after pleading guilty to three felony CWA charges in December 2020 for offenses involving a multi-year pattern of submitting false discharge monitoring reports to conceal 140 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit violations, discharges of oil into the Ohio River, and the failure to report those oil discharges to the federal government.
The settlement is with Libertas Copper LLC, which does business as Hussey Copper.
This settlement furthers EPA’s national compliance initiative
to reduce significant noncompliance and improve surface water quality by assuring dischargers comply with NPDES permit requirements.
The proposed consent decree, filed in the federal district court in Pittsburgh, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the court.
Kerry Biofunctional Ingredients Illegally Discharged Wastewater into Ponds and Wetlands
Kerry Biofunctional Ingredients, Inc., a maker of food ingredients and flavors, violated several state environmental regulations, including illegal discharges into area wetlands and failing to obtain or renew required permits. According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) enforcement investigation, Kerry Biofunctional Ingredients, Inc., committed multiple industrial wastewater violations between 2018 and 2020 at its food-grade production facility and dry goods warehouse in Rochester.
The company is implementing several corrective actions and paid a $28,170 civil penalty to the MPCA.
MPCA inspections confirmed that the company:
- Failed to properly describe and take samples of industrial byproduct as part of its land application process
- Allowed two unauthorized industrial wastewater discharges to area wetlands
- Failed to properly monitor its stormwater and to obtain a stormwater permit for its warehouse
- Didn’t meet deadlines for reapplying for other required permits
In addition to paying the civil penalty, the company must:
- Put industrial byproduct land application on hold, and develop a new sampling analysis and field calibration plan before resuming.
- Implement an adequate plan to prevent future unauthorized wastewater discharges.
- Explain how the facility will ensure benchmark monitoring is completed on a regular basis.
- Apply for stormwater permit coverage where it is lacking, and explain how it will ensure permits are reapplied for on time.
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
Annual training is required by 40 CFR 262.17(a)(7). 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 at nationwide locations, and via live webcasts. If you plan to also attend DOT hazardous materials training
, call 800-537-2372 to find out how can get your course materials on an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet at no extra charge.
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