December 18, 2023
The EPA announced that it is beginning the process to prioritize five additional toxic chemicals for risk evaluation under the nation’s premier chemical safety law. If, during the 12-month long statutory process, EPA designates these five chemicals as High Priority Substances, EPA will then begin risk evaluations for these chemicals.
EPA plans to prioritize the following chemicals for risk evaluation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA):
- Acetaldehyde (CASRN 75-07-0),
- Acrylonitrile (CASRN 107-13-1),
- Benzenamine (CASRN 62-53-3),
- 4,4’-Methylene bis(2-chloroaniline) (MBOCA) (CASRN 101-14-4), and
- Vinyl Chloride (CASRN 75-01-4).
“Under the Biden-Harris Administration, EPA has made significant progress implementing the 2016 amendments to strengthen our nation’s chemical safety laws after years of mismanagement and delay. Today marks an important step forward,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “Moving forward to comprehensively study the safety these five chemicals that have been in use for decades is key to better protecting people from toxic exposure.”
“Most vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which poses significant health and environmental problems that have been known for over 50 years. This is one of the most important chemical review processes ever undertaken by the EPA. I applaud the EPA for launching this review,” said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator.
This step is consistent with a commitment from the Biden-Harris Administration to understand and address environmental and toxic exposures as part of the Cancer Moonshot’s mission to end cancer as we know it, and as progress on delivering environmental justice.
Going forward, EPA expects to initiate prioritization on five chemicals every year, which will create a sustainable and effective pace for risk evaluations. Prioritization is the first step under EPA’s authority to regulate existing chemicals currently on the market and in use – to evaluate whether health and environmental protections are needed. This process also advances the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of environmental justice for all by evaluating, sharing information on, and providing a process to, as appropriate and needed, address the impacts of toxic chemicals in use on workers, consumers, and communities. If at the end of the risk evaluation process EPA determines that a chemical presents an unreasonable risk to health or the environment, the agency must immediately start the risk management process to take action to eliminate these unreasonable risks.
All five chemicals were selected from the 2014 TSCA Work Plan, which is a list of chemicals identified by EPA for further assessment based on their hazards and potential for exposure.
In selecting these five chemicals, EPA considered numerous factors including how they are used and whether they affect overburdened communities or potentially-exposed susceptible sub-populations (like children and workers), their known hazards and exposures, and the availability of information on each chemical to allow for fulsome risk evaluations to be completed. Between September and November 2023, EPA met with federal partners, industry, environmental organizations, labor organizations, state and local governments, and Tribes to discuss the prioritization process and presented a list of 15 chemicals that EPA was considering for prioritization. EPA took feedback from these discussions into consideration when selecting this set of five chemicals for prioritization.
Upon publication of the Federal Register notice, EPA will open a public comment period and request further information on all of these factors, as well as any other information relevant to the potential risks of these chemicals that will inform the Agency’s review of these chemicals. EPA is particularly interested in information regarding the chemicals’ uses and encourages companies that make and use them to submit comment.
Although EPA expects these chemicals to be designated as high-priority for risk evaluation during the prioritization process, EPA will continue to review and screen reasonably available and submitted information to make a final designation. EPA will review the hazard and exposure potential of each chemical, whether it builds up in the environment, whether there are potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations, whether the chemical is stored near significant sources of drinking water, how the chemical is used, and the volume in which it is manufactured or processed.
EPA Annual Report Shows Steady Progress Toward Protecting Communities from PFAS Pollution
The EPA released its second annual report on PFAS progress, which highlights significant accomplishments achieved under its PFAS Strategic Roadmap and aligns with the Biden-Harris Administration’s all of government strategy to protect communities from the impacts of forever chemicals. The report outlines key accomplishments under the Roadmap over the past year across three fronts– to restrict, remediate, and research PFAS – all centered on achieving fundamental health protections for the American people.
“This PFAS Roadmap progress report illustrates EPA’s ongoing commitment to protect people from the harmful effects of forever chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By combining science-based solutions, historic funding, and impactful regulations, EPA is following through on the vision set out in our Roadmap – to protect people, achieve environmental justice, and improve the lives of hardworking families across America.”
“One thing is clear: Americans don’t have to choose between clean air, land, and water or a prosperous, vibrant, and secure nation,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox and co-chair of EPA’s Council on PFAS. “As our whole of agency progress clearly illustrates, we are protecting people’s health while catalyzing research and innovation, fueling new markets and jobs, and prioritizing equitable infrastructure and treatment solutions for all people in this country.”
Key 2023 accomplishments include efforts to:
- Make PFAS use safer: EPA finalized rules for new PFAS reporting, issued a framework for reviewing PFAS to ensure they are used as safely as possible, and proposed to eliminate exemptions for new PFAS and to restrict certain legacy PFAS.
- Hold polluters accountable: EPA has proposed to list PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA, the nation’s Superfund law, and anticipates issuing a final rule in early 2024. This action would give the agency the power to improve transparency around PFAS releases, help ensure that polluters pay for treatment and cleanup, and help communities that are facing significant pollution quickly receive effective protections.
- Protect America’s drinking water and identify the scale of exposure: EPA proposed the first national drinking water standard for six PFAS in March 2023. Once final, this rule will save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of avoidable illnesses. EPA expects to finalize the rule in early 2024. Also, to better understand where PFAS exist and how people are being exposed to them, EPA initiated nationwide monitoring for 29 PFAS at more than 10,000 public water systems under the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.
- Deploy infrastructure funding to invest in infrastructure projects to address PFAS in water: Many communities need to install new infrastructure and treatment technologies to address PFAS in drinking water and wastewater. Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), EPA is providing $10 billion dedicated to removing PFAS and other emerging contaminants – more than half of which is going to disadvantaged and underserved communities.
- Turn off the tap at industrial polluters: EPA has taken several steps to use permitting and regulatory authority of the Clean Water Act to reduce PFAS pollution in our nation’s waters– including specific regulations to limit PFAS discharges from PFAS manufacturers, metal finishers, and landfills.
- Incorporate equity and environmental justice across the EPA’s actions: The EPA has worked to ensure that all communities have equitable access to solutions, to advance the goals of President Biden’s Executive Order 14096, Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All, and to integrate recommendations from the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
- Advance the science: The EPA has continued to build the scientific foundation on PFAS through research and development. The agency is investing in research to fill gaps in our understanding of PFAS, to identify which additional PFAS may pose human health and ecological risks at which exposure levels, and to develop methods to test, measure, remove, and destroy them.
- Listen to communities and incorporate environmental justice: EPA held listening sessions with community members impacted by PFAS in each of its 10 Regions, as well as a session specifically designed for Tribal partners.
As EPA advances critical work using its authorities and resources, it is doing so as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach to protect public health and the environment from PFAS. This coordinated effort, spearheaded by the White House, involves key collaborations. The Council on Environmental Quality leads a high-level interagency policy group focused on PFAS policy actions and the Office of Science and Technology Policy leads an interagency expert working group of federal technical and scientific leaders. Through these efforts, EPA and its partners are increasing interagency coordination and advancing work on research, analytical methods, contaminated site cleanup, and other areas.
Looking ahead to 2024, the EPA anticipates continuing its 2023 progress with several critical actions, including finalizing national drinking water standards for several PFAS; taking final action to list certain PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA; proposing Effluent Limitation Guidelines for PFAS manufacturers; issuing guidance on destroying and disposing of PFAS; finalizing new methods to monitor for PFAS in a wide range of media; and proposing rules designating certain PFAS as hazardous constituents under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The agency also expects to continue engaging closely with its state partners, who are actively working to address PFAS issues in their communities.
Minnesota Construction Contractor Faces $1.8M in Federal Penalties for Safety Hazards
Despite signing a 2021 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor that included a promise to protect its employees from potentially deadly trenching and excavation hazards, a Minnesota construction contractor was again found endangering employees in June 2023 as they replaced a residential water main and 20 separate curb stop valves for house connections in Minot.
In April 2021, Wagner Construction Inc. pledged to improve its safety procedures and training in a comprehensive agreement with OSHA to resolve violations of federal workplace safety regulations after agency inspectors cited the company at three North Dakota job sites in 2019 and 2020 for exposing employees to excavation hazards.
The agreement included the company's commitment to make significant changes, including training managers and supervisors and all other employees on trenching and excavation safety; hiring a full-time safety and compliance manager; and purchasing new safety equipment to protect workers against cave-ins and related hazards. In 2021, Wagner provided OSHA confirmation that they had hired an external consultant and purchased the necessary equipment.
Wagner Construction’s pledges are now under scrutiny after OSHA inspectors, responding to a complaint, discovered unprotected trenches in Minot on June 7, 2023, on 7th Avenue NW between 15th & 16th Streets NW. Agency inspectors learned that the company, from at least June 1 through June 7, 2023, exposed workers to trenching hazards at its work sites.
"Wagner Construction failed to keep their promises to the U.S. government and its employees by ignoring one of the construction industry's most lethal hazards," said OSHA Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous in Denver. "In 2022, 39 people died while doing trenching and excavation work — the highest number in almost 20 years — making this company's unwillingness to protect its employees truly disturbing. With the substantial increase in the number of construction projects in North Dakota and across the nation, employers like Wagner Construction must take all necessary steps to make sure employees are safe on job sites."
Given the violations' egregious nature and frequency, OSHA cited the International Falls company for six instance-by-instance repeat violations for exposing workers to cave-in hazards by not using adequate protective systems. They also identified five instance-by-instance repeat violations for not providing a safe means to exit and enter trenches. In at least two instances, OSHA noted Wagner failed to move spoil piles at least two feet away from the excavation's edge and did not provide workers with required head protection at least three times.
In total, OSHA cited Wagner Construction Inc. for 16 repeat violations and one serious violation. The company now faces $1.8 million in proposed penalties.
EPA Finalizes $585,000 Settlement with Lakeshore Railcar for Violations of the Clean Water Act
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, announced a $585,000 settlement with Lakeshore Railcar & Tanker Services LLC, a railcar cleaning and servicing facility in East Chicago, Indiana, for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
EPA and IDEM alleged that Lakeshore Railcar failed to comply with the discharge limitations and monitoring requirements of both its industrial wastewater discharge permit and the EPA-approved pretreatment program for the city. Until recently, Lakeshore Railcar was an industrial user of the publicly owned wastewater treatment plant in East Chicago. As an industrial user, the company was required to pretreat its wastewater to reduce pollutants—including cyanide—below certain limits prior to discharging the wastewater to the public sewer system. Between April 2017 and May 2023, Lakeshore violated the discharge limit for cyanide 31 times. Lakeshore Railcar also failed to follow EPA-approved methods for measuring the amount of cyanide in its wastewater discharge. Lakeshore Railcar’s violations posed a potential risk to the Grand Calumet River, as well as Lake Michigan seven miles downstream.
Prior to signing the settlement, Lakeshore Railcar stopped generating and discharging industrial wastewater to the East Chicago plant and dismantled its wastewater pretreatment operation. The settlement requires Lakeshore Railcar to pay a $585,000 penalty to the federal and state governments to resolve the alleged violations.
Ohio Food Processor’s Failure to Guard Machine’s Moving Parts Leads to Amputation Injury
A federal workplace safety investigation at one of the world's leading suppliers of processed foods found a temporary worker's finger amputation occurred when they reached into a meat grinder's discharge port that lacked required safety guards.
On June 23, 2023, OSHA responded to a report of a serious injury suffered by a 29-year-old kitchen worker at Zwanenberg Food Group USA in Cincinnati. OSHA learned that the worker had been on the job seven months.
OSHA cited the company for two repeat violations, one for not having required machine guarding on the discharge port, and one for failing to train employees on the company's lockout/tagout procedures. Zwanenberg Food Group USA faces $242,197 in proposed OSHA penalties.
The incident — the second time since 2022 that a temporary worker suffered an amputation — marks the fourth time since 2017 that OSHA inspectors have found the company violated lockout/tagout safety standards meant to protect workers from contact with moving machine parts. Zwanenberg Food Group USA's safety failures led OSHA to include the company in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program in 2017.
OSHA viewed the most recent incident as part of a pattern that led the agency to investigate if workers at Zwanenberg faced an imminent danger from unguarded or inadequately guarded machinery. With production paused after the incident, the company agreed to correct guarding hazards on its processing equipment, train employees on safe machine operation, and implement safety program improvements, all of which OSHA will monitor.
"While they have taken a first important step at this plant, Zwanenberg Food Group needs to change their workplace culture and make worker safety a priority," said OSHA Area Director Ken Montgomery in Cincinnati. "As an employer, they are responsible for protecting their temporary workers and making sure they are trained on workplace hazards and control measures to address those hazards."
In April 2023, OSHA assessed the company $1.9 million in proposed penalties after another temporary worker suffered injuries on Oct. 12, 2022. OSHA cited the plant for similar violations less than two weeks before the October 2022 injury. The company is contesting both 2022 investigations.
Based in Cincinnati, Zwanenberg Food Group USA is a subsidiary of Holland-based Zwanenberg Food Group, founded in 1875. The privately held food company has 12 production facilities in the U.S., Netherlands and United Kingdom. Zwanenberg's product line includes cooked ham, chili, luncheon meat, soups, stew, corned beef hash and pastas marketed under the Vietti, Southgate, Halal and other private label brands.
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