June 18, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Hecla Mining Company's Greens Creek Mine, located on Admiralty Island near Juneau, Alaska, was fined $143,124 for violating hazardous waste management and disposal requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“EPA continues to hold mining companies accountable for hazardous waste disposal practices,” said EPA Region 10 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director Ed Kowalski. “The company operates in a relatively remote and pristine area in Alaska, underscoring their obligation to prevent pollution from entering public lands surrounding the mine.”
Following an August 2019 inspection, EPA cited the mining company for the following violations:
- disposal of hazardous waste containing lead without a permit
- failure to conduct a weekly inspection of a hazardous waste storage area
- failure to determine if waste from mining operations was hazardous
- failure to properly label a used oil container
The settlement agreement acknowledges that the company will continue to clean up lead contaminated soil.
RCRA was enacted to protect public health and the environment and help prevent long and expensive cleanups by requiring the safe and environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous waste.
Illinois Pizza Manufacturer Faces $2.8m in Penalties after Investigation into Sanitation Worker's Death Finds Safety Failures, Lack of Training
The operator of a specialty frozen pizza manufacturing plant in Illinois could have prevented the death of a 29-year-old sanitation worker by following proper machine safety procedures, a federal investigation has found.
Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration learned the sanitation worker suffered fatal injuries while working on the overnight shift under the supervision of Miracapo Pizza Company at its Gurnee sheeting facility in December 2022.
OSHA inspectors determined the woman — a temporary worker provided by XCEL Staffing Solutions LLC in Waukegan — was using compressed air to clean a spiral conveyer as it moved to cool pizza when her head became caught in the machinery. The agency found that temporary workers had not been trained or given the authority to stop equipment from moving before cleaning.
The tragedy occurred just weeks after a November 2022 incident at the same facility in which a worker performing maintenance on a sauce depositor suffered an amputation, which led OSHA to assess Miracapo $290,191 in proposed penalties. In October 2021, another employee suffered the amputation of a fingertip while trying to clear a jammed pizza conveyor.
"This tragedy took the life of a young woman, and forever changes the lives of her family, friends and co-workers. Safety standards are put in place to prevent these kinds of tragedies," said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. "Employers have a responsibility to train workers in the language they understand so they know how to perform their work safely."
The December incident led OSHA to cite Miracapo Pizza Company — which also does business as Little Lady Foods — for 16 willful egregious violations, the agency's most severe; one willful violation; and 12 serious violations, including five serious instance-by-instance violations of two standards on different machines.
OSHA issued $2,812,658 in penalties and has placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Specifically, inspectors identified the following failures and hazards:
- Deficient lockout/tagout procedures to isolate energy during service and maintenance. The company failed to establish and utilize proper procedures for controlling hazardous energy, provide locks to employees and train employees in a language they understood on how to lockout equipment such as dough mixers, ovens, sauce depositors, toppings and crust spiral devices.
- Lack of adequate machine guards on dough mixers and sprocket wheels and chains.
- Exposing employees working on dough mixers and an oven to fall hazards.
- Exposing workers to the risk of electrical hazards.
- Not ensuring adequate electrical personal protective equipment usage.
- Exposing workers to potential for eye injuries by failing to provide appropriate protection.
"Our investigations at Miracapo Pizza Company show why OSHA's regional emphasis program for the food manufacturing industry is so important, especially as we continue to find third-shift sanitation workers suffering injuries," added OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago. "The program addresses common hazards particularly found in facilities like this one and educates employers on how following OSHA and industry-recognized safety standards can prevent more tragedies."
OSHA also issued a citation to GDI Services Inc. – a contractor that provides sanitation services to Miracapo Pizza Company – for two willful and two serious violations for failing to lock out equipment while cleaning food processing machines, failing to train workers in a language they understand on safety procedures, not providing hardware necessary to lockout or tagout equipment, and failing to provide effective information and training regarding hazardous chemicals.
The agency has assessed GDI Services with $334,839 in proposed penalties. The contractor provides third-shift sanitation crews sourced by Wilbro Management Service Inc. of Detroit to supply temporary workers, many of whom only speak Spanish.
Based in Elk Grove Village, Miracapo Pizza Company is a privately owned manufacturer providing specialty frozen pizzas for private label sales, national brands and a national convenience store chain under proprietary contracts. The company also maintains its own warehousing and transportation services. In the past decade, the company estimates baking more than one billion pizzas.
Department of Labor Cites Entertainment Company in Orlando Fireworks Warehouse Explosion in Which 4 Workers Perished
A Florida-based entertainment company could have prevented a deadly fire and explosion at an Orlando warehouse in December 2022 in which four employees perished and a fifth was left hospitalized for months with near-fatal injuries, a federal workplace safety investigation has found.
Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that, as a team of workers employed by Magic in the Sky Florida LLC readied fireworks for a local show, an ignition sparked a fire and explosions in the storage facility. The five employees, who ranged in age from 22 to 27 years old, quickly found themselves trapped.
Following its investigation, OSHA found the company failed to protect its employees by following established safety protocols and issued citations for 10 serious violations. Specifically, the agency determined Magic in the Sky failed to do the following:
- Ensure proper storage of explosive materials used in commercial fireworks displays.
- Comply with OSHA's process safety management standard for preventing or minimizing the unplanned ignition of explosive materials, by performing a hazard analysis, and developing and implementing written process safety procedures and an emergency action plan.
- Ensure electrical equipment in the work area was designed and classified for use in hazardous locations and could not serve as an ignition source.
- Develop a hazard communication program and maintain safety data sheets.
The company faces $109,375 in proposed OSHA penalties, an amount set by federal law.
"The deaths of four young workers and a fifth worker's life-changing injuries exposed Magic in the Sky's systemic failures that likely led to a fire and explosion the company could have prevented, which only adds to the tragedy," said OSHA Acting Area Office Director Audrey Windham in Orlando, Florida. "Companies that use pyrotechnics must ensure safety protocols are strictly followed to protect workers from catastrophic consequences."
Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, Magic in the Sky Florida, LLC is an entertainment services company that specializes in pyrotechnics for use in aerial fireworks displays.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of their citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Pollution at Kīkīaola Small Boat Harbor Violates Federal Clean Water Act
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that pollution from a network of drainage ditches that discharge into the Kīkīaola Small Boat Harbor violates the federal Clean Water Act. This is the latest in a series of victories that community groups have secured to protect important subsistence fishing grounds, surf breaks, and other recreational areas along West Kauaʻi from contamination that muddies the water, suffocates the reef, and risks the health of ocean users.
In a 2019 victory for community groups including Nā Ki‘ai Kai and Surfrider Foundation, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i ruled that discharging pollution into the ocean from the Mānā Plain’s plantation-era drainage ditch system, including from the Kīkīaola Harbor Drain, requires a federal permit under the Clean Water Act, known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit.
After the ruling, the County of Kauaʻi took over operation and management of the Kīkīaola Harbor Drain from the state Agribusiness Development Corporation. The community groups alerted the County to the court order and the need for an NPDES permit, and the County eventually applied for a permit. The Department of Health, which is responsible for the NPDES permitting program in Hawai‘i, refused to process the application and responded that no permit was required, contradicting the court’s 2019 order.
Na Ki‘ai Kai and Surfrider Foundation, represented by Earthjustice, returned to federal court last year, this time filing a lawsuit against both the County and the Department of Health for failing to abide by the court’s 2019 order. Later, the County agreed to not dispute that pollution from the Kīkīaola Harbor Drain violates the Clean Water Act unless regulated under an NPDES permit. But the Department of Health nevertheless refused to issue the required permit, allowing the pollution to continue without any monitoring or limits.
“This win proves that the Department of Health is not above the law and that this permit is the proper tool for reducing this water pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney Elena Bryant. “The Health Department can no longer ignore the pleas for help from West Kauaʻi residents who have suffered with a polluted shoreline for years.”
Community members catch fish and crab in Kīkīaola Harbor and also surf and swim in the surrounding areas.
“We hope the Department of Health gets the message now and starts taking the necessary steps to clean up ocean pollution along the Mānā Plain,” said Lawrence Kapuniai, a Kekaha resident and member of Nā Kia‘i Kai. His family has been fishing and gathering along the West Kauaʻi shoreline for generations. “We need clean ocean waters and healthy reefs so that we can continue to pass down our fishing traditions and feed our families.”
“Our reefs are being smothered by visibly filthy waters from the miles of ditches that empty into the ocean along the west side,” said James Nakahiki, a Kekaha resident and member of Nā Ki‘ai Kai. He descends from a family of fishers from West Kauaʻi. “The state and county need to figure out ways to minimize this pollution and protect West Kauaʻi residents.”
The Kīkīaola Harbor Drain discharges untreated drainage waters contaminated with sediment and other pollutants into the nearshore ocean waters at Kīkīaola Harbor during heavy rain events. The Department of Health has designated the nearshore waters around Kīkīaola Harbor as impaired for turbidity, which is caused by sediment. Water quality testing has detected elevated levels of turbidity, diesel, and enterococcus bacteria in the Kīkīaola Harbor Drain.
“Pollution from drainage ditches along the Mānā Plain is putting our health at risk,” said Dr. Carl Berg, Kauaʻi resident and Senior Scientist for Surfrider Foundation, Kauaʻi Chapter. “It’s time for the Department of Health to step up and regulate instead of continuing to fight us in court.”
“The ocean waters off West Kaua’i offer an amazingly valuable recreational resource to the local community,” said Angela Howe, Senior Legal Director for the Surfrider Foundation. “The decades-long hard work of the Surfrider Foundation Kaua’i Chapter to test the water and advocate for full water quality protection, alongside our partners at Earthjustice and Nā Ki‘ai Kai, has helped to protect this resource, and we are grateful for the continued litigation victories requiring Clean Water Act protection.”
The next phase of the lawsuit will determine how to address the County’s illegal discharges from the Kīkīaola Harbor Drain, such as with a court order requiring the Department of Health to promptly issue an NPDES permit. An NPDES permit to discharge into the nation’s waters is an important tool to reduce water pollution and includes limits on contamination levels as well as water testing requirements.
Amid Wildfire Smoke Event, Department of Labor Urges Employers To Protect Workers
The U.S. Department of Labor issued a news release urging employers to make and implement plans to protect workers from hazardous air quality caused by wildfire smoke. The most significant health hazard associated with wildfire smoke, DOL explained, is exposure to particles of burned material less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. These particles may enter the lungs and bloodstream and are linked with serious lung, heart, and kidney disease. Workers exposed to air polluted by wildfire smoke may also experience heat stress and eye or respiratory tract irritation or be exposed to other respiratory hazards in the atmosphere, such as heavy metals.
Measures to reduce outdoor workers’ smoke exposure include monitoring air quality conditions, such as by using EPA’s AirNow website and app, relocating or rescheduling work tasks to smoke-free areas, reducing physical activity, and requiring or encouraging workers to take breaks in smoke-free areas. Employers may also consider making accommodations to allow employees to work indoors with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. They may also provide or allow employees to use NIOSH-approved respirators in situations where they wouldn’t otherwise be required. The DOL’s news release also directed employers to OSHA's safety tips for protecting workers during wildfires and to NIOSH's resources for reducing outdoor workers’ exposure to smoke.
“Wildfire smoke exposure can create major health hazards for outdoor workers,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “These hazards can be reduced with knowledge, safe work practices, and appropriate personal protective equipment.”
Throughout the week prior to DOL’s news release, large areas of the northeastern United States were affected by dangerous air pollution produced by wildfires burning across the border in Canada. According to Nature magazine, much of Canada has experienced an unusually warm and dry spring, resulting in an unprecedented early and active start to the fire season. By early June, the area of land burnt by wildfires in 2023 had already surpassed the area burnt by the end of the 2021 fire season, which was also unusually extreme. If dry, warm weather persists, the fires may continue for months, Nature reported.
As of June 14, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center listed a total of 457 active wildfires within the country. Of these fires, 231 were reported as “out of control,” with a further 131 “under control” and 91 “being held.” Additional information about the status of Canadian wildfires and response efforts, including national fire situation reports released daily, can be found on CIFFC’s website.
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