EPA Announces New Steps to Protect Communities from PFAS

February 05, 2024
The EPA announced the latest efforts to protect communities and the environment from the health risks posed by certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are widely used, long-lasting chemicals that break down very slowly over time, and they have been used in many different consumer, commercial and industrial products. Scientific studies show that some PFAS exposure is linked to harmful health effects. EPA is proposing two rules that would add to the agency’s comprehensive approach to tackling PFAS pollution across the country. These proposals will also help deliver on President Biden’s agenda to better protect public health and advance environmental justice.
“From day one, President Biden promised to address harmful forever chemicals and other emerging contaminants to better protect communities from exposure, and today’s actions are just the latest from EPA as we continue to deliver on the president’s commitment,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Thanks to strong partnerships with our co-regulators in the states, we will strengthen our ability to clean up contamination from PFAS, hold polluters accountable and advance public health protections.”
“States like New Mexico are on the front lines of protecting communities from forever chemicals, and stronger federal regulations are essential in addressing such contamination,” said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “EPA’s proposed rules are a direct result of New Mexico’s leadership in holding polluters accountable by treating PFAS like the toxic waste they are.”
EPA is proposing to modify the definition of hazardous waste as it applies to cleanups at permitted hazardous waste facilities. This modification would assure that EPA’s regulations clearly reflect EPA’s and authorized states’ authority to require cleanup of the full range of substances that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) intended, including emerging chemicals of concern, such as PFAS, that may present substantial hazards, at permitted facilities. Currently, the regulations do not clearly and accurately reflect the full authorities granted to EPA by Congress.   
EPA is also proposing to amend its RCRA regulations to add multiple PFAS compounds as hazardous constituents. These PFAS would be added to the list of substances identified for consideration in facility assessments and, where necessary, further investigation and cleanup through the corrective action process at hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities.
These proposed rules would strengthen protections for communities and drinking water supplies located near the 1,740 permitted hazardous waste facilities across the nation. Corrective action under RCRA requires facilities that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste to protect health and the environment by investigating and cleaning up hazardous releases into soil, groundwater, surface water, and air. Hazardous waste cleanups are a crucial part of EPA’s focus on environmental justice and help to protect public health in part by addressing disparities in access to a clean and safe environment.
EPA will be publishing these proposals in the Federal Register in the next few weeks. The “Definition of Hazardous Waste Applicable to Corrective Action from Solid Waste Management Units” proposed rule will be open for public comment for 30 days whereas the “Listing of Specific PFAS as Hazardous Constituents” proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days. Upon publication, EPA welcomes comment on each proposal.
Clean Air Act Violations Lead to $550,259 Penalty
The EPA recently announced that the City of Lynnwood, Washington agreed to pay a penalty of $550,259 for violating the Clean Air Act at its wastewater treatment plant on 76th Avenue West.
Performance test results conducted by the city showed that, starting in 2020, the city’s sewage sludge incinerator was intermittently exceeding emission limits for particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrogen chloride, a hazardous air pollutant. EPA found that Lynnwood failed to adhere to federal requirements for conducting the source tests.
“The City of Lynnwood’s decision to use incineration to manage its domestic sewage sludge came with the responsibility to adhere strictly to the rules designed to reduce air pollutants and protect people’s health,” said Ed Kowalski, Director of EPA’s Region 10 Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “The city failed to meet that responsibility, committing significant Clean Air Act violations and earning significant penalties.”
EPA also found that the city failed to meet requirements for operating the incinerator, such as the requirement to run the incinerator at the proper temperature or maintain a specific minimum pH. These failures reduced the effectiveness of pollution reduction devices.
EPA’s penalty order follows its 2023 compliance order directing Lynnwood to come into compliance with Clean Air Act requirements by no later than May 31, 2024.
Plumbing Contractor Cited After Employee's Fatal Fall, Exposure to Hydrogen Sulfide
A Silver Creek plumbing contractor could have prevented a 34-year-old employee's June 2023 fatal fall at a Rome work site by following required safety procedures, a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found.
Investigators with OSHA learned that a three-person work crew from K&D Plumbing Inc. was replacing a sewer line at Armuchee High School when they encountered a blockage in a pipe. To clear the blockage near the end of a 60-foot-long trench, one worker entered a manhole. A short time later, the worker fell about 20 feet, where they succumbed to injuries as a result of the fall and subsequent exposure to a high atmospheric concentration of hydrogen sulfide gas.
The Rome Fire Department used a gas monitor to test the air inside the manhole and discovered the presence of hydrogen sulfide at 1,910 parts per million. The OSHA permissible exposure limit for hydrogen sulfide is 20 ppm. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an environmental concentration of 100 ppm is considered immediately dangerous to life or health.
OSHA cited the employer for willfully failing to develop and implement a permit-required confined space entry program, including testing and ventilating the space, before allowing employees to enter a manhole. The agency also cited K&D with six serious violations for not providing ladders or other safe means of egress from the 6-foot-deep trench and protections or controls for water accumulation inside the trench.
In addition, the employer failed to have a competent person inspect the trench prior to workers entering and for not ensuring excavated soil and uninstalled piping were stored at least two feet from the trench edge, preventing them from rolling back inside the trench and striking workers.
The agency proposed $184,387 in penalties.
"K&D Plumbing's failure to adhere to industry guidelines resulted in a preventable loss of life," said OSHA Area Office Director Jeffery Stawowy in Atlanta-West. "Implementing safety controls and training employees to recognize and avoid hazards is every employer's responsibility."
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA announced enhanced nationwide enforcement and additional oversight to support its national emphasis program on preventing injuries related to trenching and excavation collapses. The agency's trenching and excavation webpage provides information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a video on tips for safe excavations. Among the industry's most dangerous hazards, unsafe trenching and excavations led to 40 construction workers suffering fatal injuries in 2022.
New Jersey Transportation Company Fined $437K After Workers Exposed to Safety, Health Hazards
A transportation company is facing $437,860 in federal penalties after an investigation by OSHA found workplace safety and health hazards at its Paulsboro site.
OSHA initiated its inspection of Dana Container in July 2023 in response to an employee complaint that alleged safety and health deficiencies. The agency cited the company for one willful violation because they did not properly maintain safety data sheets for chemicals, including corrosives.
Three repeat violations involved chemical container labels that were not updated and, therefore, workers were not made aware of the names of new chemicals; eyewash stations that were not properly maintained; and medical evaluations that were not conducted for workers prior to respirator use. OSHA previously cited Dana Container in 2019 and 2023 for similar violations. Four serious citations were also issued because the company failed to inspect hoists, establish a written hazard communication program and ensure safety requirements were met during use of a lifeline fall protection system.
"Dana Container continues to jeopardize the well-being of its workers by repeatedly disregarding federal safety and health laws and standards," said OSHA Area Office Director Paula Dixon-Roderick in Marlton, New Jersey. "The company must address these violations immediately to fulfill its legal obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace."
Dana Container Inc. is a nationwide transportation company whose principal business is to lease transportation equipment and operate tank truck washes.
EPA Penalizes a Massachusetts Chemical Company for Chemical Safety Law Violations
The EPA has announced an administrative penalty of $74,914 against Roberts Chemical Company, Inc. in Attleboro, Mass. regarding alleged violations of the Clean Air Act General Duty Clause.
"Hazardous chemicals need to be clearly labeled, and safely explained, stored, and moved to ensure the safety of workers, families in the area, and emergency responders if accidents occur," EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "We don't roll the dice on protecting public health and the environment. One lesson from this case is that companies transferring extremely hazardous chemicals should have excellent hose maintenance programs. In this case, approximately 5,000-gallons of sulfuric acid spilled from a ruptured transfer hose while a tank railcar was being unloaded."
The Consent Agreement and Final Order that details the summary of alleged violations and terms of the settlement is available upon request.
Description of Facility 
Roberts Chemical repackages and stores multiple chemicals at its Attleboro, Massachusetts facility. The facility is supplied with bulk chemicals by tanker truck or railcar. Chemical unloading operations occur at dedicated tank truck and railcar unloading stations.
Several chemicals are stored in bulk at the Facility in aboveground storage tanks. After repackaging, finished products are primarily transferred into drums and totes for off-site shipments to customers. The Facility handles several chemicals that are considered "extremely hazardous substances" under the General Duty Clause, including sulfuric acid, nitric acid, aqueous ammonia, and cyanides.  
The Facility is located in a 37-acre private industrial park approximately three miles southwest of downtown Attleboro. Industrial operators border the Facility to the south, and the Facility is bordered on the north and east by a rail line. The nearest residences are located approximately 0.10 miles northwest beyond the rail line.
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