In the wake of the Christmas electronic-gadget buying season, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) are cautioning consumers not to be fooled by the majority of nationwide businesses that call themselves electronics recyclers when in fact they don’t do any recycling, but ship old equipment to developing countries.
“We may think we’re doing the right thing by giving our old electronics to a ‘recycler’ or a free collection event,” said Sarah Westervelt, BAN’s e-Stewardship Program Director. “But most of those businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors. They take your old equipment for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load it into a sea-going container and ship it to China, India, or Nigeria.”
According to BAN, once on foreign shores, your old computer or TV becomes part of a cyber-age horror story. In China, women and children breathe in the toxic solder vapors as they cook circuit boards, dioxins are produced when wires are burned, and microchips are washed in strong acid baths and flushed into the rivers as primitive metals extraction techniques take their toll on the local environment and the health of thousands of migrant farmers. In Nigeria, the imported techno-trash that is not repairable is dumped and burned in swamps. BAN revealed these sad truths as early as 2002 in their film and report, “Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia,” and again in another report and film entitled, “The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-use and Abuse to Africa," in 2005.
Unfortunately, according to BAN and ETBC, this waste trade continues unabated from the United States because the government refuses to ratify the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment—international accords prohibiting trade in hazardous waste to developing countries—and has otherwise expressed little interest in controlling its toxic waste exports as long as they are claimed to be destined for recycling or re-use. As such, U.S. e-waste exports are in contravention of international law, but not U.S. law, and thus U.S. “recyclers” are able to claim they abide by all environmental laws and are even "EPA approved."
To help distinguish between these exporters and the responsible recyclers and refurbishers, BAN and ETBC created the e-Stewards Initiative—a program identifying North America’s most responsible e-Waste recyclers that have agreed to adhere to strict criteria created by nonprofit environmental groups. The criteria require that no hazardous electronics equipment or parts (as defined internationally) be exported to developing countries, be processed by captive prison labor, or end up in landfills or incinerators. Consumers are urged to avoid recyclers not on this list, including free e-waste collection events that do not state that they only use e-Stewards recyclers.
“We strongly urge all consumers to avoid all but those recyclers that have qualified as e-Stewards. If your local recycler has not qualified for the program, ask them to do so,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of ETBC. “Otherwise, while trying to do the right thing with recycling, you can unwittingly become a player in a global digital dumping game, and end up poisoning those in developing countries.”
EPA Fines AmeriGas Propane $19,432 for Chemical Reporting Violations
The EPA recently fined AmeriGas Propane, L.P., over violations of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know-Act (EPCRA) at its facility in Glendale, Ariz.
AmeriGas Propane, L.P., will pay $19,432 for failing to file 2004 and 2005 annual chemical inventory forms for propane stored at its Glendale facility with the Arizona Emergency Response Commission, Maricopa County Local Emergency Planning Committee, and Glendale Fire Department.
“Facilities storing hazardous chemicals such as propane must provide timely, accurate information about the risks posed by these chemicals,” said Daniel Meer, chief response, Planning and Assessment Branch, Superfund Division, U.S. EPA Region 9. “Without this data, state and local emergency planners and first responders aren’t adequately prepared to protect communities in the event of an accidental or intentional release of those chemicals.”
AmeriGas Propane, L.P., has since rectified the violations. The EPA learned of the violations during a June 2005 and a subsequent March 2006 inspection.
Koch Foods to Pay Penalty for Toxic Release Inventory Reporting Violations
Koch Foods of Fairfield, Ohio, has agreed to pay a $10,000 civil penalty after it failed to meet Ohio EPA's Toxic Release Inventory reporting requirements. The Toxic Release Inventory, or TRI, is a database that contains information about specific toxic chemical releases, transfers, waste management, and pollution prevention activities from manufacturing facilities throughout the United States.
This inventory was established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, which Congress passed to promote planning for chemical emergencies and to provide information to the public about the presence and release of toxic and hazardous chemicals in their communities. The TRI program does not regulate chemical discharges.
If companies meet certain requirements, they must file TRI reports annually. Koch Foods, which processes various meat food products, uses ammonia, glycol ethers, and nitric acid. The company did not file its reports or pay the required fees on time for 2004 and 2005. The reports and fees were submitted in June 2007.
Of the $10,000 penalty, $8,000 will go to Ohio EPA's Division of Air Pollution Control to administer air pollution control programs; the remaining $2,000 will go to Ohio EPA's Clean Diesel School Bus Fund.
EPA Fines Admiral Transportation $15,000 for Hazardous Waste Violations
The EPA has fined Admiral Transportation of City of Industry, Calif., $15,000 for violating federal hazardous waste regulations.
A general transportation company located at 300 N. Baldwin Park, Admiral Transportation violated multiple federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requirements, including:
- Failure to comply with labeling requirements for containers of hazardous wastes
- Storage of hazardous waste without a permit for a period exceeding 90 days
- Failure to close hazardous waste containers
- Failure to submit biennial reports
- Failure to conduct weekly inspections of hazardous waste areas
- Failure to properly dispose of hazardous waste
Admiral Transportation has since corrected the violations. The EPA discovered the violations during an April 2006 inspection.
"Companies that handle toxic wastes need to manage them correctly to protect the environment and ensure public safety," said Nancy Lindsay, EPA’s director for waste management programs in the Pacific Southwest region. “We are pleased that Admiral Transportation has taken responsibility for its violations and now understands what it needs to do in order to properly manage its waste streams.”
Firms that handle hazardous waste must engage in proper waste handling and storage to prevent spills and safeguard worker health.
Massachusetts Offers Free Environmental Training
MassDEP provides online training that can be viewed at any time, from any computer with an Internet connection and a browser. The following courses are available:
Pennsylvania to Regulate Truck Idling
The rule is primarily aimed at long-haul truckers who idle their vehicles during federally mandated rest periods to heat, cool, and provide other amenities to their bunks and cabs. It also will affect many delivery trucks, school buses, transit buses, and motor coaches.
In most cases, the proposed regulation would limit idling by commercial diesel-powered vehicles to five minutes per hour. It was approved for public comment by the Environmental Quality Board, or EQB, on October 16. DEP estimates that an engine idling for more than 15 minutes—otherwise known as long-duration idling—amounts to about 22.3 million hours a year in Pennsylvania, approximately 95% of which is due to truck travel rest periods. If each of the 13,000 long-haul trucks that idle in Pennsylvania each day used alternative means to provide power during rest periods, fuel use would be cut by more than 20 million gallons per year.
Diesel-powered vehicles emit nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), both of which contribute to ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. Ozone and fine particulate matter are pollutants that can cause or exacerbate breathing problems, especially in people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. DEP estimates that once this rule is implemented fully in 2010, it will reduce annual NOx emissions by about 1,610 tons, VOCs by about 45 tons, and particulate matter by about 30 tons.
Several exemptions are included in the proposal, including idling by a vehicle with a sleeper compartment in order to run heating or air conditioning when the temperature is below 40 degrees or above 75 degrees outside. This exemption applies only if stationary idle reduction technology is not available where the truck is parked and expires on May 1, 2010. Vehicles are also exempt if the idling is needed for active loading or unloading of passengers or property; to operate work-related mechanical or electrical operations other than propulsion; and for maintenance, repairs, inspections, and safety-related purposes. Passenger and school buses are included in this proposed regulation, but will be permitted to idle for up to 15 minutes during a 60-minute period to provide heat or cooling when non-driver passengers are on board.
Written comments, suggestions, or objections can be sent to the Environmental Quality Board, P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8477, or by express mail to Rachel Carson State Office Building, 16th Floor, 400 Market St., Harrisburg, PA 17101-2301. Comments must be received by Monday, March 17, and cannot be faxed.
Ask EPA Your Questions on Water Efficiency
An “Ask EPA" session on water efficiency will be held on January 31 from 2 to 3 p.m., Eastern time. EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles will discuss how using water more efficiently can help save you money and protect the environment. Questions can be submitted beginning January 29 until the session ends on January 31.Cell Phone Recycling Is an Easy Call
The nation's leading cell phone makers, service providers, and retailers have teamed up with the EPA to answer America's call for easy cell phone recycling.
"Thanks to our Plug-In partners' efforts, recycling an old cell phone has become a quick and easy way for Americans to help protect the environment," said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. "By dropping it off at a store or sending it through the mail, Americans have more recycling options today than ever before."
To kick-off the campaign, EPA released a series of print public service announcements, "Recycle Your Cell Phone. It's An Easy Call," which highlight the convenience and environmental and social benefits of recycling a cell phone. EPA also introduced a podcast that addresses many common questions on cell phone recycling.
EPA started the campaign because many consumers still do not know where or how they can recycle their unwanted cell phones. Consequently, less than 20% of unwanted cell phones are recycled each year.
Recycling a cell phone offers an opportunity for everyone to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save energy, and conserve natural resources. An estimated 100 to 130 million cell phones are no longer being used, many languishing in storage. If Americans recycled 100 million phones, we could save enough upstream energy to power more than 194,000 U.S. households for a year. If consumers were able to reuse those 100 million cell phones, the environmental savings would be even greater, saving enough energy to power more than 370,000 U.S. homes each year.
Plug-In To eCycling is a voluntary partnership between EPA and electronics manufacturers, retailers, and service providers to offer consumers more opportunities to donate or recycle their used electronics. In 2007, as part of their commitment to the program, retailers and electronics manufacturers voluntarily recycled more than 47 million pounds of electronics, mostly computers and televisions. For example, in 2007, Staples and Office Depot both launched in-store electronics take-back programs across the continental United States, and Sony teamed up with Waste Management Inc. to expand local TV recycling opportunities. Efforts like these have helped the Plug-In program to recycle more than 142 million pounds of electronics since 2003.
GAO Says EPA Actions Could Reduce Environmental Information Available to Many Communities
Federal law requires certain facilities that manufacture, process, or use any of 581 toxic chemicals to report annually to the EPA and their state on the amount of those chemicals released into the air, water, or soil. It also requires EPA to make this information available to the public electronically through the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) database.
Facilities must either (1) submit a detailed TRI Form R for each designated chemical that they use in excess of certain thresholds or (2) file a simpler Form A certifying that they do not need to do so. To reduce companies' burden, EPA issued a rule in December 2006 intended to expand Form A eligibility for certain facilities and chemicals. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to analyze:
- How EPA and others use TRI data
- Whether EPA followed internal guidelines in developing its rule
- The rule's impact on information available to the public
- The extent of burden reduction that is likely to result from EPA's changes
TRI data are used widely by nearly all EPA program offices in carrying out their missions and by other federal agencies, the states, and the public at large. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, uses the data to identify companies that release chlorofluorocarbons (chemicals that deplete the earth's ozone layer) to enforce a tax to help phase out their use. States use TRI data, among other things, to design pollution prevention initiatives, to calculate fees on emitting facilities, and to assist in emergency planning. Key users among the public include researchers, who use TRI data to assess environmental policies and strategies for pollution reduction, and individual citizens and local advocacy groups, who use it to learn about the type and quantity of toxic chemicals released in their communities.
This occurred, in part, because EPA expedited the rule-making process in an effort to meet a commitment to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) to provide burden reduction by the end of 2006. The schedule did not allow it to meet the guideline's provisions to complete economic analyses; evaluate the costs and benefits of the changes; or seek adequate input from EPA program offices that rely heavily on TRI data.
For example, although EPA held a Final Agency Review for program offices to state their position on the proposed rule, the review package did not include the burden reduction option and supporting analysis, which was proposed and adopted. GAO concluded that, while EPA estimated that its rule would affect reporting on less than 1% of the total release pounds nationwide, this aggregate national estimate masked the disproportionately large impact the rule would have on individual communities across the country.
GAO's analysis indicated that EPA would allow more than 3,500 facilities to no longer report detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices. As a result, more than 22,000 of the nearly 90,000 TRI reports could no longer be available to hundreds of communities in states throughout the country. In addition, many commenters, including the attorneys general of 12 states and EPA's Science Advisory Board, stated that the changes will significantly reduce the amount of useful TRI information. EPA's estimated savings from the reduced reporting burden associated with the TRI rule—3 % of total annual burden hours, worth about $6 million annually—are likely overstated. EPA's projected savings are based on OMB-approved estimates of burden hours associated with completing Form R and Form A, but these estimates are based on outdated data. EPA's more recent engineering estimates—developed from a systematic examination of the amount of time needed to collect and report the data on Form R and Form A—suggest a lower overall burden associated with current TRI reporting and, consequently, 25% lower burden savings from the new rule.
Ohio EPA Settles With Cleveland Company for Hazardous Waste Violations
City Plating and Polishing, LLC, has agreed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste it generates and pay Ohio EPA a $12,000 penalty to settle hazardous waste violations at its electroplating facility located at 4821 West 130th Street in Cleveland. The company has addressed the violations and now operates in compliance with Ohio's hazardous waste laws.
During a June 2005 facility inspection, Ohio EPA discovered that City Plating had caused multiple containers of hazardous waste to be transported to a facility not permitted to accept hazardous waste. The facility operates zinc, tin, and nickel electroplating lines and is a large quantity generator of hazardous wastes, including filter cake from a wastewater treatment system and universal waste light bulbs.
As part of the settlement, City Plating will install four new plating barrels and a 2,100-gallon sludge thickening tank purchased in June 2007. Once operating, the new equipment will reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated at the facility.
Massachusetts Construction Company Faces Fines for Clean Water Violations
Upon inspection, EPA determined that the Revane Development Company, Inc., has been discharging storm water containing pollutants from the site since construction began in August 2004. The recently issued EPA complaint alleges that the company did not apply for coverage under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Storm Water Discharges from Construction Activities, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.
Storm water running off the site contains sand, dirt, sediment, suspended solids, and residues of construction material. Silt and sediment in the storm water running off the site had damaged the town’s storm water collection system. The pollutant-laden storm water discharges into catch basins both on the site and on town property. These basins drain into tributaries of the Blackstone River.
Reduce Costs by Using Low-Impact Development Practices
Using these practices in construction projects can lower costs while improving environmental results.
LID practices are innovative stormwater management practices to manage urban stormwater runoff at its source. The goal is to mimic the way water moved through an area before it was developed by using design techniques that infiltrate, evapotranspirate, and reuse runoff close to its source. Some common LID practices include rain gardens, grassed swales, cisterns, rain barrels, permeable pavements, and green roofs. LID practices increasingly are used by communities across the country to help protect and restore water quality.
The report highlights examples that, in most cases, reduce project costs while improving environmental performance. Total capital savings ranged from 15% to 80%, with a few exceptions in which LID project costs were higher than conventional stormwater management costs. As LID practices become more common, it is likely that they will become cheaper to use.
Energy Company Did Not Discover January Oil Spill for 13 Hours
The EPA has been on-site since January 5, assisting the California Department of Fish and Game, to address the more than 25,000-gallon crude oil spill near Buellton, Calif. Over filling of a produced water tank caused the spill, which continued to flow for 13 hours before it was discovered by Greka Energy.
Greka Energy has been responsible for three major and numerous minor oil spills in the area in the past two years.
"We have significant concerns whenever a company has repeated releases of oil to the environment, and this is the second major release from a Greka Energy facility since December 2007," said Daniel Meer, chief of the Response, Planning, and Assessment Branch for the Superfund Division in EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “We will use all available tools under the Clean Water Act to ensure that this company is brought into compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."
On January 5, oil and produced water, a pollutant and contaminant under the Clean Water Act, first overflowed into the secondary containment of the Davis Tank Battery, but was compromised by an open drainage conduit. The oil and produced water flowed from the secondary containment tank and migrated through a Santa Barbara County maintenance yard, a winery equipment storage yard, and eventually more than a mile down Zaca Creek.
The EPA will continue to work with members of the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team, and Greka Energy, the responsible party, in containment and clean-up efforts, to prevent further harm to the environment.
While concentrating on cleanup efforts at the current spill site, the EPA is also taking action to prevent future Greka spills. At the heart of EPA's strategy to prevent oil spills from reaching our nation's waters, the agency requires that certain facilities develop and implement oil spill prevention, control, and countermeasure (SPCC) plans. EPA is currently inspecting Greka facilities throughout the region to determine what control measures are necessary to prevent future spills at its locations.
Delaware Semiconductor Company Assessed $5,000 Penalty for Environmental Violations at Southbridge Facility
SemiCon Precision Industries, Inc., operator of a semiconductor precision cleaning facility in Southbridge, Mass., has been assessed a $5,000 penalty by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) for Hazardous Waste Management, Industrial Wastewater, and Toxics Use Reduction Act violations that occurred at its Southbridge facility.
During inspections conducted in February 2007, MassDEP personnel determined that the company had operated an industrial wastewater pretreatment system with personnel who were not properly licensed to do so. The company also failed to file an appropriate Toxics Use Report, to properly mark and label hazardous waste drums, and to properly delineate and post a sign in its hazardous waste accumulation area.
In a recently finalized consent order, the company agreed to maintain compliance with all applicable regulations and pay the $5,000 penalty.
"Failure to have properly licensed industrial wastewater pretreatment operators may lead to illegal and harmful discharges to publicly owned sewer systems," said Lee Dillard Adams, deputy director of MassDEP's Central Regional Office in Worcester. "If a company has questions as to whether its operations are subject to these regulations, it should contact MassDEP immediately."
Underwear Insurer Agrees to Pay for Environmental Cleanup
The American International Specialty Lines Insurance Company Inc. (AISLIC) has agreed to pay $42.5 million to clean up contamination at four industrial facilities in a suit in which the Department of Justice intervened on behalf of the EPA and other agencies. The four sites, formerly owned by Fruit of the Loom, are located in Michigan, New Jersey, and Tennessee.
"Insurers should take note that they may be liable for the cost of cleaning up their bankrupt clients' environmental messes," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "EPA will keep pursuing companies who pollute the environment."
Fruit of the Loom filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and the court set up two trusts to receive and distribute the company's remaining assets, including its environmental insurance policies. The trusts subsequently tried to collect environmental cleanup costs from AISLIC, a member company of AIG Insurance, under the insurance policy that covered response costs and natural resource damages under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). AISLIC denied coverage and then brought a suit seeking to confirm that it was not obligated to pay the trusts for these costs.
This settlement resolves a lawsuit that began in 2005 over environmental insurance coverage between AISLIC and the two bankruptcy trusts and concludes litigation in which the Department of Justice intervened on behalf of EPA, the Department of Interior, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The states of New Jersey, Tennessee, Illinois, and Michigan have also joined the settlement.
Under the settlement agreement, AISLIC will make an initial $30 million payment plus interest from May 15, 2007, and 10 annual payments of $1.25 million to the Fruit of the Loom trusts. Most of the money will be used to clean up contamination at the following hazardous waste sites:
- Velsicol Chemical (Hardeman) site, Toone, Tenn.
- Ventron/Velsicol site, Bergen County, N.J.
- Velsicol Chemical site, St. Louis, Mich.
- NWI Breckenridge site, Breckenridge, Mich.
The three largest sites—the St. Louis, Mich., the Bergen County, N.J., and the Toone, Tenn., sites—will each receive more than $12.5 million for environmental cleanup and restoration activities. The Breckenridge, Mich., site will receive $2.1 million for cleanup.
Radon Causes 100 Times More Deaths Than Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Did you know?
- Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking.
- Some 20,000 people will die this year due to breathing too much radon without even knowing it.
Responding to this danger, EPA is joining state, local, and tribal governments, community groups, public health organizations, and industry in designating January as National Radon Action Month, to raise public awareness and promote actions reducing these risks.
"In our national drive to reduce greenhouse gases by making our homes greener, we shouldn't forget that they can't truly be green without being safe places for people to live," said Marcus Peacock, EPA's deputy administrator. "It's remarkably easy to protect our loved ones by testing for radon and building new homes with radon-resistant features that allow everyone to breathe freely and safely."
As part of Radon Action Month, EPA has released public service announcements featuring Fuad Reveiz, a member of the National Association of Home Builders and former NFL Pro Bowl place-kicker.
"It's simple and cost-effective to build new homes with radon-resistant features," said Reveiz. "It makes sense to do it right from the start."
Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that seeps into homes undetected through foundation cracks and can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors. It travels up from underground sources of uranium in the earth's crust. EPA estimates that 1 in 15 homes will have a radon level of four PicoCuries per liter (pCi/L) of air or more, a level the agency considers high.
. In existing homes, families can begin protecting themselves by buying an easy-to-use radon test kit to determine if a high level exists; if so, a high level might be lowered simply with a straight-forward radon venting system installed by a contractor. In new homes, builders can easily and economically include radon-resistant features during construction, and home buyers should ask for these. EPA also recommends that home buyers ask their builder to test for radon gas before they move in.
Radon preventive actions have saved an estimated 6,000 lives in the last 20 years. EPA has a goal to double that number, to 12,000 lives saved, in the next five years. All Americans can contribute to saving someone's life by testing and reducing high levels in existing homes or testing and building radon-resistant new homes.
As part of an effort called Radon Leaders Saving Lives, EPA is working with state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and radon professionals across the country to educate consumers about ways to reduce radon in existing and new homes. Moreover, everyone can be a radon leader and help save a life by telling a friend or neighbor about preventing lung cancer from breathing radon.
Simple Radon Test Can Prevent Lung Cancer; New Yorkers Urged to Avoid Exposure to Odorless Gas
Did you know that a simple test can protect you from a major cause of cancer? Each year, more than 20,000 people die from lung cancer caused by exposure to radon, the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in non-smokers. Radon is an odorless, colorless naturally-occurring gas that could be seeping into your home right now. Yet, only one in five homeowners has actually tested their home for radon. January is National Radon Action Month, and the EPA and the Surgeon General are urging people to protect their health by testing their homes. If a high radon level is detected in your home, you can take steps to fix it and protect yourself and your family. Many areas of New York are at high risk for radon due to their geology, but any home can have a radon problem.
“There is a simple test to find out if you do or don't have high radon levels in your home,” said Alan J. Steinberg, Regional Administrator. “Radon is a problem that can be easily fixed, and I urge all New Yorkers to test their homes."
The cost includes shipping, handling, and analysis. Test results are sent directly to the person who submitted the kit. To purchase a radon test kit, call the state’s Radon Program toll-free at 1-800-458-1158 . Test kits are also available at some local hardware stores and from some local health departments. If the test shows that there is a problem, the homeowner should contact their state radon office for advice on how to fix it. Most solutions are simple and relatively inexpensive.
Nearly 80% of American homes have not been tested for radon, perhaps because you can't see, smell, or taste radon. Yet, it may be the most potent carcinogen in your home. In fact, radon can build to unhealthy levels, especially during colder months when windows and doors are kept closed. The invisible radioactive gas can seep into your home from underground and can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors.
EPA to Set Up Human Resources Shared Service Centers
The EPA has announced plans to establish shared service centers in three locations, beginning in June 2008, to process personnel and benefits actions for the agency's 17,000 employees. The centers will be located in current EPA facilities in Cincinnati, Ohio; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Research Triangle Park, N.C. The shared service centers also will process vacancy announcements throughout the agency.
The move will improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and customer service of agency human resources operations. It is expected to take 12 to 24 months to complete. Staff affected by the creation of the shared service centers will continue their employment at one of the centers or elsewhere in the agency. The centers will enhance the timeliness and quality of customer service and standardize work processes.
EPA used the shared service center model when it successfully set up its finance centers in 2005–2006. Other federal agencies currently using human resources shared service centers include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health), the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Forest Service.
EPA Reaches Agreement With Champion Packaging on Clean Air Violations
The agreement, which includes a $156,800 penalty and an environmentally beneficial project, resolves EPA allegations that Champion failed to get state construction and operating permits for its chemical mixing and packaging operation that makes windshield washer fluid and cleaning compounds.
For its environmental project, Champion will reduce the content of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in some of its windshield washer products by approximately 80%. The project is expected to reduce emissions of VOCs, which are also hazardous air pollutants, to the atmosphere by about 1.7 million pounds for each of the years 2008 and 2009.
VOCs contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog). Smog is formed when a mixture of pollutants react on warm, sunny days. Smog can cause respiratory problems, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. People with asthma, children, and the elderly are especially at risk, but these health concerns are important to everyone.
Hazardous air pollutants may cause serious health effects including birth defects and cancer. They may also cause harmful environmental and ecological effects.
Rhode Island Pool Supply Company Fined for Violating Pesticide Laws
A Rhode Island swimming pool company paid a $10,400 penalty for violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act ().
Modern Swimming Pool Supply Company, Inc., of North Providence produces, distributes, and sells pool supply products, including pool disinfectant and the pesticide sodium hypochlorite.
Two routine EPA inspections of the Modern Pool facility revealed that the company repackaged and sold a sodium hypochlorite solution on multiple occasions without first obtaining a distribution agreement with the product’s manufacturer. The distribution of a pesticide without a supplemental distribution agreement amounts to the sale of an unregistered pesticide, which is a violation of FIFRA. Modern Pool’s violations occurred between April 2006 and August 2006.
The state of Rhode Island has reported that numerous industries in the state disregard the required practice of obtaining supplemental distribution agreements. As a result, EPA has made it a priority to target industry violators. Modern Pool came into compliance with FIFRA soon after becoming aware of its violations.
FIFRA regulates products that are intended (or claimed) to prevent or destroy pests, including algae, viruses, and bacteria. Under FIFRA, regulated pesticides must undergo a rigorous scientific evaluation and be "registered" by EPA before they are sold or distributed, and claims made on the product labels must be consistent with the required claims made during the registration process.
ADEQ Issues Draft Clean-Car Rules to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Vehicles
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Director Steve Owens has announced that ADEQ has issued draft rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from vehicles and filed its notice of proposed rulemaking with the Secretary of State’s Office.
The new rules are being developed pursuant to an Executive Order on climate change issued last year by Governor Janet Napolitano. The Arizona Climate Change Advisory Group (CCAG), which Gov. Napolitano appointed, unanimously recommended that Arizona adopt the new GHG reduction standards.
The proposed rules include tailpipe emission standards for new vehicles, requirements for the sale of some zero-emissions vehicles in the state, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions overall from new vehicles sold in Arizona.
“This is an important step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Arizona and is a critical element in our effort to address climate change,” ADEQ Director Owens said. “Our goal is to have a final rule approved by late spring or early summer.”
During 1990–2005, greenhouse gas emissions in Arizona grew by 56%, the fastest rate of growth in the country. If unchecked, Arizona’s GHG emissions are projected to grow by 140% between 1990–2020 and by 200% between 1990–2040. Roughly 40% of Arizona’s GHG emissions come from vehicles.
“If we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Arizona, we need to cut emissions from vehicles,” Director Owens said.
The rules will apply to vehicles beginning with the 2011 model year. Arizona’s rules will be based on the Clean Car program adopted by the State of California. States are authorized under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt California’s vehicle emissions standards.
California’s standards will become effective when the EPA grants a waiver to California under the Clean Air Act. EPA announced in late December that it had decided to deny the waiver to California. Arizona has joined 15 other states in a lawsuit brought by California against the EPA to reverse EPA’s decision to deny the waiver and to uphold the right of states to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from automobiles.
In addition to California, 12 other states have adopted the California GHG vehicle standards. They are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Along with Arizona, at least four other states—Colorado, Florida, Montana, and Utah—also have announced plans to adopt the California GHG vehicle standards.
Resource Control, Inc., Assessed a Total of $26,000 in Penalties Due to Environmental Violations at the Barre Landfill
Resource Control, Inc., of Westborough has been assessed a total of $26,000 in penalties by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection as a result of odorous conditions at the Barre Sanitary Landfill on Depot Road.
A consent order requires Resource Control to perform corrective actions, pay a $6,500 administrative penalty to the Commonwealth, and provide an additional $19,500 for a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) that is designed to enhance Miller's Beach Park, located adjacent to the landfill on the Ware River.
After receiving odor complaints from neighbors of the landfill on Feb. 27, 2007, MassDEP inspected the facility and determined that hydrogen sulfur odors were being emitted from the landfill as a result of technical problems with the gas collection system and an automated alarm system.
In addition to the penalty and the SEP, Resource Control will be required to conduct daily inspections of the entire gas collection system, install a fail-safe system for both the gas-flare ignition system and the gas-flare alarm system, hire a full-time landfill gas technician, complete a third-party assessment of the landfill gas collection/control systems and identify specific requirements to extend 100% gas collection coverage of the facility, install gas wells and collection appurtenances identified in the third-party assessment, install the final cap on the west and north slopes of area A, and identify any potential point sources of landfill gas and take necessary actions to address these issues.
"Nuisance conditions will not be tolerated, and must be addressed at any Solid Waste Management facility," said Martin Suuberg, director of MassDEP's Central Regional Office in Worcester. "Proper management of the gas collection and control systems is essential to avoiding future problems."
Foundry Pays $70,000 for Environmental Violations
Badger Foundry Company, a gray iron foundry in Winona, has paid $70,000 for alleged violations of the facility's air emissions permit. In addition, the company has made several changes in its operation to ensure future compliance with environmental regulations.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) staff documented violations of the facility's air emissions permit, including the terms and conditions of a compliance schedule developed in 2002. Specifically, the company failed to install and have in operation a fabric filter used to control emissions from the plant. In addition, the facility failed to complete several actions outlined in the compliance schedule.
In addition to paying the $70,000 civil penalty, Badger Foundry has taken all steps needed to bring the facility back into compliance with its existing air emissions permit. The company has completed the installation and started using the required fabric filter. In addition, the emissions from designated areas throughout the plant have been collected and routed to the appropriate pollution control equipment. The company has submitted appropriate semiannual and bimonthly progress reports and will complete stack performance testing by March 2008.
The settlement, known as a stipulation agreement, is one of the tools used to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first-time or repeat violation and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.
Owner and Manager of Springfield Rental Property Fined $18,000 for Asbestos Violations
Rafael DeLeon is the owner and Belkis DeLeon is the manager of rental property at 25 Whittier St., Springfield.
Based on a complaint that illegal asbestos removal had occurred at the rental property, MassDEP conducted an inspection on Jan. 30, 2007, and found that an asbestos-insulated boiler was replaced with a new boiler without instituting the appropriate asbestos handling and disposal procedures. MassDEP found extensive asbestos contamination within the stairwell and basement of the building, as well as outside the building and in the city's wheeled trash containers.
"The failure to adhere to the specific requirements regarding the management of asbestos may impact the public health and the environment," said Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP's Western Regional Office in Springfield. "The asbestos regulations are very prescriptive in terms of proper removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials so that asbestos fibers do not become airborne."
At the MassDEP's directive, DeLeon promptly retained a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to clean up the property.
Up to $3,500 for Texans Willing to Partner With State in Effort to Meet Federal Air Quality Deadlines
Texas recently kicked off its “Drive a Clean Machine” program, which provides qualifying owners of older, high-polluting vehicles with vouchers worth up to $3,500 toward the purchase of qualifying new, cleaner-running vehicles. Mobile emissions produced by old cars are the primary source of NOx in Texas’s non-attainment areas. To qualify for the program, an applicant's vehicle must be 10 years old or older, or have failed state emissions tests.
“Today’s cars and trucks are significantly cleaner-running than their predecessors, up to 98% cleaner than those produced just 10 years ago,” said State Sen. Kip Averitt, who wrote the bill that authorized the program. “The Drive a Clean Machine program will partner with Texans willing to purchase a new car and get these old polluters off the road, providing a good return on taxpayers’ investment.”
“Mobile emissions are perhaps the most challenging part of the state’s air quality puzzle,” said TCEQ Chairman Buddy Garcia. “Removing these old cars and replacing them with cleaner vehicles is arguably one of the most effective ways to significantly improve our air quality.”
To qualify, vehicles must be registered in 1 of the 16 counties in nonattainment or near-nonattainment for federal ozone standards.
“Over 20% of the vehicles in these counties are 10 years old or older,” said TCEQ Commissioner Larry R. Soward. “For those Texans that qualify for the program, it can help them to drive a newer, more reliable car and do something positive about cleaning up the air at the same time.”
The Drive a Clean Machine program will provide the following incentives to qualifying families willing to purchase a new vehicle:
- $3,000 for a car, current model year or up to three model years old
- $3,000 for a truck, current model year or up to two model years old
- $3,500 for a hybrid vehicle, current or previous model year
To qualify, a household must make less than 300% of the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four with an annual net income up to $61,950 would meet the income guidelines.
Vehicles that are turned in under the program will have their engines and emissions systems destroyed, so the cars cannot be sold again anywhere or return to the road to pollute Texas air.
The program will be administered by the North Central Texas Council of Governments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; the Houston-Galveston Area Council in the Houston area; and Williamson and Travis counties in the Austin area. Those interested in using the program will apply for vouchers through these organizations, and qualified applicants will be awarded vouchers from these organizations.
Purchased vehicles must be on a list of qualifying vehicles and cost less than $25,000. They must weigh less than 10,000 lbs, be at least 10 years old, and/or have failed an emissions test. The vehicles must be purchased at participating car dealers.
The 16 participating counties in nonattainment or near-nonattainment for federal ozone standards are
Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, and Tarrant counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area; Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, and Montgomery counties in the Houston area; and Travis and Williamson counties in the Austin area.
EPA Offers Training on Its Wastewater Information System Tool
On Wed., Jan. 16, 2008, EPA will provide online training on The Wastewater Information System Tool (TWIST), a Microsoft Access based information management system developed for U.S. EPA to help communities inventory and manage decentralized (i.e., individual and clustered) wastewater systems. The webcast will provide an introduction on how to use TWIST, an overview of watershed and water quality issues related to wastewater management, discuss treatment system options and management, and address the need for inventory systems such as TWIST. Finally, the webcast will also provide information on other tools for small communities and decentralized system users.
You must register in advance to participate in the webcast.
Ace Hardware to Pay $850,000 for Air Quality Violations
In its largest consumer product settlement ever, the California Air Resources Board recently fined Ace Hardware $850,000 for selling windshield washer fluid in stores throughout the state that failed to meet California air emissions requirements.
ARB cited the hardware chain for selling windshield fluid throughout California that was specially formulated with higher pollutants to prevent from freezing in the state's colder, mountainous areas. From 2003 to 2007, Ace Hardware sold nearly 25,000 one-gallon containers of washer fluid with higher volatile organic compound (VOC) content in areas throughout the state where it was not allowed, resulting in more than 20 tons of excess emissions.
VOCs react with other pollutants and sunlight in the atmosphere to form ground-level ozone and particulate matter, the main ingredients in smog. Both pollutants can exacerbate asthma as well as respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.
"We will continue our aggressive consumer products program to protect Californians from harmful emissions," said ARB Chairman Mary Nichols. "By selling cold weather wiper fluid in all areas of the state, Ace Hardware needlessly sent 20 tons of smog and soot-forming emissions into our imperiled skies. This sizable settlement underscores our commitment to pursuing offenders who don't follow through and correct problems."
Ace Hardware was cited previously by ARB in 2005 for selling wiper fluid, resulting in a $40,000 settlement. The ARB's Consumer Products Regulation specifies different VOC limits for automotive windshield wiper fluid in California, depending on the climate of the region. The limit is 35% VOC by weight for mountainous areas that are subject to low freezing temperatures and 1% VOC for everywhere else in the state. The higher limit is permitted in the coldest areas of the state because more VOCs are needed to keep the fluid from freezing.
Windshield wiper fluid is the only consumer product in California that has two permissible VOC limits; all other consumer products have only one limit they must meet to be sold throughout the state.
The ARB's Consumer Products Program, which discovered the violations in November 2006, works to reduce the amount of VOCs emitted from the use of chemically formulated consumer products in homes and institutions. This vast product category includes detergents, cosmetics, disinfectants, automotive specialty items, as well as lawn and garden products.
All settlement money is paid to the California Air Pollution Control Fund, which was established to mitigate various sources of pollution through education and the advancement and use of cleaner technology.
Penalties for Reckless and Negligent Oil Spills Increase Fivefold
In October 2006, Polar Tankers, Inc., paid the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) $540,000 after one of its oil tankers, the Polar Texas, spilled at least 7,200 gallons of crude oil in Puget Sound’s Dalco Passage in October 2004 without ever reporting or taking responsibility for the spill.
The $540,000 remains the largest fine Ecology has ever issued for an oil spill to marine waters. At the time, the fine was also the maximum possible penalty under state law. As a result of a new law, if the incident were to occur today, Polar Tankers, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips Co., could face a state penalty of more than $1.6 million. Money from oil spill penalties goes into an account that helps protect Washington waters and reduces the need for public dollars.
“The Polar Texas spill was an egregious incident that people who care about Puget Sound will never forget,” said state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, who sponsored SB 5552 that made the change in state law.
“It had been 15 years since the penalty amounts were established, and I wanted our state to have the ability to assess penalties that would prevent this kind of behavior,” Rockefeller said. “By raising the penalty amounts, hopefully this change will deter companies doing business in Washington from considering spill penalties as just ‘the price of doing business.’”
Under the new law that took effect in July 2007, anyone who intentionally or recklessly spills or permits oil to spill to state waters could face a penalty up to $500,000 a day for each violation the spill poses a risk to the environment.
The previous limit for intentional or reckless oil spills, set by lawmakers in 1992, was $100,000 a day.
Ecology will determine the penalty amount for an intentional spill or a spill caused by reckless behavior based on the size of the violator’s business, the seriousness of the spill, a spiller’s previous compliance record, and the speed and thoroughness of the cleanup.
The same 2007 law also increases the maximum amount for anyone who negligently spills or permits oil to spill to state waters up to $100,000 a day for each violation and day the spill threatens the environment. A negligent spill could be caused by not maintaining equipment properly, failing to oversee an oil transfer, or running a vessel aground.
The previous limit for negligent spills was $20,000 a day. The increases in penalty amounts for intentional and negligent oil spills is in addition to fines that can be imposed by Ecology for other actions—all of which can bring an additional $10,000 per violation. These include:
- Not making proper spill notifications to state and federal authorities.
- Failing to take immediate actions to clean up a spill.
- Not following a state-approved oil spill contingency plan.
- Each day a spill enters state waters.
State waters include creeks, streams, ponds, wetlands, lakes, rivers, marine waters, storm drains, and ditches.
Environmental Project Supervisor Jailed for Violations at Patuxent River Naval Air Station
Robert Langill of Woburn, Mass., was sentenced on January 10 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., to 60 days in prison, 10 months home detention, and 2 years of supervised release for violating the Clean Air Act in connection with asbestos abatement at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, announced Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
Langill pleaded guilty on Oct. 26, 2007, before U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte. According to the plea agreement, from 2001 to 2004, Langill was employed with a Maryland asbestos abatement company as an asbestos abatement project supervisor. In 2003, the company was contracted by the U.S. Navy to remove asbestos-containing material from several buildings undergoing renovation or demolition at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md.
From October 2003 to January 2004, Langill directed the removal of transite panels containing asbestos from Buildings 692, 213, and 425 in a manner that violated federal asbestos abatement work practice standards. Workers were directed to remove the panels by smashing them with hammers and crowbars and allowing the transite to fall to the ground and break, thereby rendering the asbestos friable and causing a release of asbestos fibers into the environment.
The transite panels from Building 692 had not been adequately wet and no advance notification of the abatement activity had been given to the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), the state authority delegated to receive such notification. In addition, unlabelled, improperly sealed bags of the broken asbestos-containing transite panels from Building 692 were stored on the grounds of the naval facility overnight in a truck owned by the company.
Asbestos has been designated by the EPA and Congress in the Clean Air Act as a “hazardous” air pollutant. Asbestos causes a wide range of illnesses, including various forms of cancer and asbestosis, a usually fatal lung disease. The EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
The case was investigated by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Noreen McCarthy of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and Gina L. Simms, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
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Trivia Question of the Week
Which of the following is effectively being tapped by a Dutch company as a source of energy?
a. Wooden shoes
b. Parking lots
c. Tulip waste