July 24, 2023
As the hurricane season kicks off, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminds facility operators of preventing, minimizing, and reporting chemical releases during hazardous weather events. Facility operators are obligated to maintain safety, minimize releases that do occur, and report chemical releases or oil spills and discharges in a timely manner, as required under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and/or the emergency planning provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and/or the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.
“As the climate crisis increases the number and intensity of storms, communities living near industrial facilities on the Gulf Coast rely on the owners and operators to prepare for chemical releases, spills and other incidents that could occur during severe weather,” said Regional Administrator Dr. Earthea Nance. “EPA and our state partners perform large-scale field exercises and post response personnel along the Gulf Coast during hurricane season, and expect regulated facilities to prepare as much as possible to keep their workers and nearby communities safe before, during and after significant weather events.”
The EPA is working with the states of Texas and Louisiana to ensure Gulf Coast communities are prepared for hazardous weather before, during, and after a storm. The EPA reminds facility owners in Texas and Louisiana coastal regions to do their part and be prepared to secure their operations in the event of hurricanes or other weather events.
Unlike some natural disasters, hurricanes and tropical storms are predictable and usually allow facilities to prepare for potential impacts. The EPA reminds facility owners and operators of some basic steps to prepare for hazardous weather:
- Review procedures for shutting down processes and securing facilities appropriately—especially hazardous chemical storage—or otherwise implement appropriate safe operating procedures.
- Review updated state-federal guidelines for flooding preparedness, available here.
- Assure all employees are familiar with requirements and procedures to contact the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 in case a spill or release occurs.
- Review local response contacts, including Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs). A list of these contacts by state is available here.
Prevention and reporting requirements for facilities are available on our webpage
. In the event of a hazardous weather incident, please visit our Natural Disasters webpage for updated emergency information.
Frequent Clean Water Act Violations Lead to Steep Fines
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of Sandy have agreed on a set of measures the city will undertake to stem the city’s frequent violations of the Clean Water Act, including significantly limiting new sewer connections and upgrading its aging wastewater treatment system.
The consent decree settles violations of the Clean Water Act that date back to 2017 when DEQ found that discharges from the city’s wastewater treatment plant were regularly exceeding permitted levels and polluting Tickle Creek and the Clackamas River. As part of the agreement, Sandy must complete a set of improvements to the wastewater treatment plant by October 31, 2023, that will improve reliability and capacity.
Additionally, the city must continue with its Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program to reduce the amount of rain and groundwater that enters the collection system. The investigation portion of the project must be completed by December 31, 2025, and all identified corrective measures within the sewer system must be completed within 10 years.
The city agreed to pay $500,000 in civil penalties for violations of its water quality permit – $250,000 to the U.S. Treasury and $250,000 to Oregon.
This settlement furthers EPA's National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative to reduce significant noncompliance with discharge permits by municipalities and improve surface water quality.
“This agreement shows what we can do when we work together,” said Casey Sixkiller, Regional Administrator of EPA Pacific Northwest & Alaska office in Seattle. “The City of Sandy is taking the right steps to correct a long-standing problem, and EPA will be there to support their progress wherever we can.”
“I’m proud that we were able to come together to resolve an issue in a way that protects the environment and people’s health and holds the City of Sandy accountable, while also addressing the needs of a growing community,” said DEQ Director Leah Feldon. “The Clackamas River is an Oregon gem, and this agreement will help ensure it runs clear and cold for generations to come.”
The City of Sandy operates a wastewater treatment plant to treat domestic wastewater. The plant operates under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to discharge to Tickle Creek, a tributary of the Clackamas River. Sandy has reported hundreds of violations of permit limits since 2017.
DEQ has been delegated authority to enforce violations of the Clean Water Act. However, EPA retains the authority to enforce violations within Oregon. EPA’s involvement often results in the establishment of a federally enforceable timeline, in the form of a court order Consent Decree – with which the City of Sandy has now agreed – to comply with federal environmental laws.
Consent decree details
Under the terms of the consent decree Sandy must:
- Pay a $250,000 civil penalty to the U.S. within 30 days of the effective date of the consent decree. The city also must pay Oregon $24,300 owed from a previous penalty within 30 days and an additional $250,000 penalty. The Oregon penalty may be reduced to $50,000 if the city completes a Supplemental Environmental Project worth $200,000 by December 31, 2028.
- Continue with its Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation program to reduce the amount of rain and groundwater that enters the collection system.
- Develop and implement a capacity, management, operation, and maintenance (“CMOM”) program designed to ensure the collection system provides a high level of service to customers and reduces regulatory noncompliance.
- Complete preliminary design improvements by October 31, 2023. This is a set of improvements to the treatment plant identified in a report prepared for Sandy to improve reliability and increase capacity.
- Submit an Amended Wastewater Facilities Plan to bring the city into compliance with its water quality permit and keep the city in compliance in the future. The schedule for final completion of all work under the plan shall be as expeditious as possible, but no longer than 15 years from the date EPA and DEQ approve the plan.
- Implement a Capacity Assurance Program that will limit new connections to Sandy’s sewer system until the city has demonstrated that adequate capacity exists in the system.
- Every six months, submit a report describing progress that meets the above requirements.
U.S. Department of Labor Finds Maersk Retaliated Against Seaman Who Reported Safety Concerns
A federal whistleblower investigation has determined that Maersk Line Limited — one of the world's leading providers of marine cargo services — suspended and terminated a seaman illegally after the seaman reported numerous safety concerns about a company vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Maersk Line's termination of the seaman violated the federal Seaman's Protection Act. Seaman may report concerns directly to the USCG and are not required to follow any company policy that requires employees to report first to the company. The law protects the rights of seamen aboard a U.S.-registered vessel, or any vessel owned by a U.S. citizen to report safety concerns or violations of maritime laws and to cooperate with federal officials at any time.
OSHA ordered the Maersk Line to reinstate the seaman and pay $457,759 in back wages, interest, compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. The company must also revise its policy to not prohibit seamen from contacting the USCG or other federal, state or local regulatory agencies before first notifying the company.
"Federal law protects a seaman's right to report safety concerns to federal regulatory agencies, a fact every maritime industry employer and vessel owner must know," said OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. "Failure to recognize these rights can instill a culture of intimidation that could lead to disastrous or deadly consequences. The order underscores our commitment to enforcing whistleblower rights that protect seamen."
Investigators learned the seaman reported a variety of safety concerns about the vessel Safmarine Mafadi — a 50,000-ton, 958-foot container ship — to the U.S. Coast Guard in December 2020. The safety concerns included the following:
- Gear used to release lifeboats did not work properly and needed repair and replacement.
- On several occasions, a ship's trainee was alone and unsupervised while on ship's watch, including during one incident when a fuel and oil spill occurred that took the crew two days to clean, and could have created an environmental spill.
- Crew members possessing and possibly consuming alcohol onboard.
- Two leaks in the starboard tunnel, found during an inspection, and the bilge system caused flooding in cargo holds and needed need of repair.
- Rusted, corroded and broken deck sockets needed repair and replacement.
Maersk responded by suspending the seaman in December 2020 and then terminating them in March 2021, for making the complaint without notifying the company first.
"The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to partnering with OSHA in protecting whistleblowers and to vigorously enforce the Seaman's Protection Act. We encourage everyone within the maritime domain to support and abide by these protections," said Rear Admiral and Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy for the U.S. Coast Guard Wayne Arguin. "An open and transparent safety culture within the maritime industry is vital to protecting the lives of mariners and the public. Together, we can make the maritime workplace safe for everyone."
Headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, Maersk Line Limited operates the largest U.S. flag fleet in commercial service and employs approximately 700 U.S. mariners. The company is the largest subsidiary of A.P. Moeller-Maersk, a global provider of maritime transport, logistics services and terminal operations, based in Denmark.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Seaman's Protection Act and more than 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace safety and health, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, tax, criminal antitrust and anti-money laundering laws. For more information on whistleblower protections, visit OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Programs webpage.
National Emphasis Program To Target Warehousing, Distribution Center Operations
OSHA has launched a national emphasis program (NEP) intended to prevent workplace hazards in warehouses, distribution centers, and “high-risk retail establishments” such as hardware stores, supermarkets, and warehouse clubs and supercenters. Mail and postal processing and distribution centers as well as parcel delivery and courier services are also included in the new program. Establishments like these have injury and illness rates higher than those in private industry overall, OSHA states. And for certain sectors, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show injuries and illnesses at twice the rate of private industry, the agency’s news release explains.
Under the NEP, OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety inspections at covered establishments with agency personnel focusing on hazards commonly found in these workplaces, including those related to powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage, walking and working surfaces, means of egress, and fire protection. OSHA will also assess heat and ergonomic hazards during inspections conducted as part of this program. The NEP calls for only partial inspections of retail establishments focused on storage and loading areas unless OSHA finds evidence of potential violations in other areas of a business.
“This emphasis program allows OSHA to direct resources to establishments where evidence shows employers must be more intentional in addressing the root causes of worker injuries and align their business practices with the goal to ensure worker health and safety,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.
Kansas City Blade Manufacturer To Pay Penalty for Alleged Violations of Environmental Law
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will collect a $337,253 penalty from Oregon Tool Inc., a Kansas City, Missouri, manufacturer of steel lawn mower blades, to resolve alleged violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
According to EPA, Oregon Tool employs approximately 130 employees at its Kansas City facility and allowed hazardous, ignitable waste to accumulate on the floor, walls, ceiling, and equipment at the facility without determining the extent of the hazard nor maintaining the facility in a way that prevented the release of hazardous waste.
“Oregon Tool’s operations presented a significant risk to its workers and the surrounding community,” said David Cozad, director of EPA Region 7’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “This settlement represents the federal government’s commitment to protect residents from harmful releases of hazardous substances, particularly in communities that are already overburdened by pollution.”
After EPA observed the facility’s conditions during a September 2022 inspection and notified the company about potential violations, the company proposed and completed a comprehensive cleanup of its facility that collected and removed 9,000 pounds of ignitable hazardous waste that had accumulated over time throughout the facility. Further, Oregon Tool agreed to install controls to prevent future hazardous waste releases.
This EPA inspection showed that Oregon Tool’s manufacturing processes resulted in the accumulation of spent sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, and potassium nitrate mixture on the facility’s floor, walls, ceiling, and equipment. These substances are considered hazardous waste and could stimulate and accelerate combustion. Further, the EPA inspector observed that substances were being emitted from the facility’s ceiling vents.
Demographic and environmental data show that the Oregon Tool facility is in a largely low-income, Spanish-speaking area heavily burdened by pollution. EPA is strengthening enforcement in vulnerable communities to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of industrial operations on vulnerable populations.
RCRA creates the framework for the proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste. Facilities that generate, store, transport, and/or dispose of hazardous waste must take precautions to prevent the release of that waste.
Trivia Question of the Week