EPA Encourages Companies to Self-Disclose Environmental Violations Online

August 11, 2008

Under the pilot, regulated facilities nationwide will be able to use eDisclosure to disclose violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (for example, failure to submit toxic chemical release forms to EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory). Regulated facilities located in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas will be able to disclose violations of all environmental laws. Based on results of the pilot, EPA will consider expanding eDisclosure to other states in the near future.

EPA’s audit policy provides incentives to companies that voluntarily discover, promptly disclose, and correct and prevent future environmental violations. EPA may reduce or waive penalties for violations if the facility meets the conditions of the policy. EPA will not waive or reduce penalties for repeat violations or violations that resulted in serious actual harm.

Since 1995, more than 3,500 companies have disclosed and resolved violations at nearly 10,000 facilities under the audit policy. 

EPA Continues Work to Understand Potential Impacts of Pharmaceuticals in Water

EPA is seeking additional information on the practices of the health care industry to form future potential regulatory actions and identify best management and proper disposal practices. This is one of several actions the agency is taking to strengthen its understanding of disposal practices and potential risks from pharmaceuticals in water.

"The agency's work to increase industry stewardship and scientific understanding of pharmaceuticals in water continues," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water. "By reaching out to the National Academy of Sciences and requesting information from the health care industry, EPA is taking important steps to enhance its efforts."

The agency is also commissioning the National Academy of Sciences to provide scientific advice on the potential risk to human health from low levels of pharmaceutical residues in drinking water. The National Academy of Sciences will convene a workshop of scientific experts Dec. 11–12, to advise the agency on methods for screening and prioritizing pharmaceuticals to determine potential risk.

Other actions the agency is taking include: expanding a recent fish tissue pilot study to conduct sampling nationwide to determine whether residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) may be present in fish and waterways; developing a methodology to establish water quality criteria to protect aquatic life; and conducting studies to examine the potential occurrence of PPCPs in sewage sludge and wastewater. To facilitate these efforts, the agency has developed state-of-the-art analytical methods capable of detecting various pharmaceuticals, steroids, and hormones at very low levels.

EPA also is participating in an international effort with the World Health Organization to study appropriate risk assessment methods for pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants. All these actions reflect advice the agency sought from a broad range of stakeholders, including environmental and public health groups, drinking water and wastewater utilities, state water and public health agencies, and the agricultural community.

EPA’s four-pronged approach for PPCPs in water is aimed at strengthening scientific knowledge; improving public understanding; building partnerships for stewardship; and taking regulatory action when appropriate.

EPA will accept public comments on the Health Care Industry ICR for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Washington to Re-issue Industrial Stormwater Permit

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) proposes to re-issue its current industrial stormwater general permit through April 30, 2009, while it engages the regulated and environmental community in developing a simpler and more effective permit.

Ecology will accept public comments about the permit re-issue until September 12.

The industrial storm water general permit regulates industrial facilities that discharge stormwater into surface waters and into storm sewers that lead to Puget Sound, other marine waters, and Washington’s rivers and major lakes. It covers a wide array of industry sectors, including lumber, paper, printing, chemicals, petroleum, leather, stone, metals, ships, landfills, transportation, mills, and food.

Approximately 70% of industrial storm water general permit holders discharge stormwater in the 12 counties that border Puget Sound. Ecology regulates approximately 1,150 industrial facilities in Washington through the permit.

Ecology’s collaborative work to revise the permit will address a broad range of compliance barriers, including stormwater research and development, education and outreach, technical assistance, compliance inspections, and enforcement.

Ecology expects to issue a revised permit sometime within the next year. The agency will schedule another public comment period for that action.

 Ecology’s public workshop and hearing on the permit will be at 1 p.m., September 11, at Ecology’s headquarters building, 300 Desmond Drive, Lacey,. 

Ecology will accept written and oral comments on the draft industrial stormwater general permit and fact sheet. Comments should reference specific text when possible. Comments may address technical issues; accuracy and completeness of information; the scope of facilities proposed for coverage; adequacy of environmental protection and permit conditions; and any other concern that would result from Ecology’s issuance of the permit.

Ecology encourages comments by e-mail. Submit them to industrialstormwatercomments@ecy.wa.gov. The public may provide oral comments by testifying at the public hearings or by submitting written, hard-copy comments to Julie Robertson, Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600. Ecology must receive written, postmarked or e-mailed comments no later than 5 p.m., Friday, September 12.

Rules for Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Washington State

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is developing a system for the state's large sources of greenhouse gases to report their climate-changing emissions.

Under House Bill 2815, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the 2008 Legislature required the owners of large fleets of vehicles and large stationary sources of greenhouse gases to begin reporting their emissions in 2010. Lawmakers directed Ecology to adopt rules to develop and implement an emissions reporting system.

“Reporting is a key to understanding the amount of greenhouse gases released by Washington sources. With accurate, reliable data and our help, sources can identify the best ways to lower their emissions. We can't reduce what we don't track,” said Stu Clark, Ecology's Air Quality program manager.

The rules will apply to owners or operators of:

  • A fleet of on-road motor vehicles that emit at least 2,500 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year in Washington. The state's largest motor vehicle fleets will meet this threshold. They include trucking and delivery fleets, rental car companies, large customer service fleets (such as phone, cable, or power companies), and large government-agency fleets.
  • A source or combination of sources that emits at least 10,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year in the state. Washington's largest factories and power facilities will meet this threshold. They include refineries, pulp and paper mills, cement kilns, some lumber mills, large food processors, and some entities that use fossil fuels to generate power, steam, heat, or cooling.


Ecology is putting together a stakeholder group to review the proposed rule. Group members will represent private and government fleets; power producers; manufacturers; pulp, paper, and lumber mills; the environmental community; and other affected entities. They will start meeting in mid to late August and continue through January 2009.

Ecology expects to issue a draft rule for public comment in spring 2009 and hold public hearings. The final rule should be adopted in summer 2009. 

The U.S. EPA is expected to publish a draft greenhouse gas reporting rule in September 2008. Ecology will review EPA's draft rule language as work continues on the state rule.

Electroplating Company Fined for Hazardous Waste Violations

A North Andover, Mass., electroplating company has paid a $31,328 penalty and is performing three Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in a settlement resolving hazardous waste storage violations under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Subsequent to a 2006 inspection, EPA alleged that Central Metal Finishing (CMF) was violating several RCRA regulations, including its failure to inspect its hazardous waste storage areas and train employees with hazardous waste management responsibilities. EPA also alleged several insufficiencies with respect to CMF’s storage and labeling of hazardous waste containers.

CMF’s metal-plating operations generate hazardous wastes such as contaminated sludge, cyanide, and chromium-bearing wastes from the facility’s plating baths.

The agreed-upon SEPs entail the replacement of the facility’s copper cyanide plating process line with a non-cyanide (alkaline) plating process. CMF also will replace its nitric acid process with a non-nitric acid process used in the facility’s aluminum plating preparation process line. Finally, CMF will replace its silver cyanide process line with a non-silver (alkaline) plating process. CMF estimates that the SEPs will result in the reduction of 32,680 gallons of hazardous wastewater and will also reduce CMF’s solid cyanide hazardous wastes by 22%. In addition, the SEPs reduce the risk of a release of hazardous wastes to the environment and will also reduce the risk to workers managing process and waste. The costs of these SEPs are estimated to total $125,311.

Tennessee Offers Free Radon Test Kits

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is offering free single-use radon test kits and educational brochures on radon-resistant new construction techniques to Tennessee residents at their local Ground Water Protection Division offices.

“Preventing exposure to radon is extremely important,” said Lori Munkeboe, director of Environment and Conservation’s Office of Environmental Assistance. “By utilizing new construction techniques that make homes resistant to this gas or by correcting high radon levels in existing homes, Tennesseans can protect themselves and their families.”

Exposure to radon poses serious health risks, and individuals are encouraged to take action to protect themselves from its negative effects. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can seep into homes through cracks and openings in their foundations. This gas cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, but, in concentrated levels, it can cause illness. According to EPA estimates, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States overall.

“EPA studies show that elevated levels of radon are present in 6% of all U.S. households. The figure is higher in Tennessee, where 16% of homes have high concentrations of radon. The only way to know if a home has elevated radon levels is to test,” said Amy Inabinet of the Tennessee Radon Program. “We encourage all Tennesseans to take action to identify and to fix radon problems in their homes.”

Taking action to prevent radon exposure offers financial as well as health benefits. Eliminating the cracks and openings that allow radon to seep inside a home results in reduced energy costs, with an average savings of $65 per year. Additionally, these home improvements promote proper drainage and reduce moisture problems. Preventing radon exposure in new construction is even more cost-effective, as installing new components in existing structures can cost as much as eight times more than utilizing them during construction.

For more information on how to prevent radon exposure, radon testing and mitigation or to find a local Ground Water Protection office, contact the Tennessee Radon Program at 800-232-1139 

Top Olympic Athlete Yao Ming Becomes UNEP's First Environmental Champion

Top Olympic athlete Yao Ming is the UN Environment Programme's first-ever Environmental Champion, UNEP recently announced.

Basketball megastar Yao Ming, who plays for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and for China's Olympic team, is one of the most famous athletes in the world today. He is a national icon in China and carried the Olympic Flame into Tiananmen Square on August 6, as well as being his country's flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony.

"I am delighted and greatly honored to accept the UN Environment Programme's offer to become their first ever 'Environmental Champion,'" Yao Ming said. "In my role as Environmental Champion, I will work with governments, the private sector, and the public to promote good and effective management of our environment so we can preserve the planet for future generations."

Yao Ming said he will work with young people across the world and try to inspire them to plant trees, use energy-efficient light bulbs, harvest rain water, and to become environmental champions in their own communities.

"I welcome Yao Ming to our team," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, who is in Beijing for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. "As one of the most high profile athletes in these Games and with a fan base of millions across the world, I am sure he can help us raise public awareness on the environment and Climate Change issues. I look forward to working closely with Yao Ming and wish him and all other athletes the very best for the Games."

"I am delighted and greatly honored to accept the UN Environment Programme's offer to become their first ever 'Environmental Champion,’” said Ming.

Republic Engineered Products Fined for Opacity Violations

EPA Region 5 has reached an agreement with Republic Engineered Products Inc. on alleged Clean Air Act violations at the company's steel mill at 1807 E. 28th St., Lorain, Ohio. Republic agreed to pay a $210,000 penalty.

The agreement resolves EPA allegations that Republic violated state regulations and its state operating permit by exceeding limits on opacity, or the amount of light obscured by particulates (smoke, dust, ash), from its basic oxygen process vessels and its blast furnace cast house.

The alleged violations were discovered during EPA and Ohio EPA inspections and from information submitted by Republic.

Toxic E-Waste Exports Present Pressing Problem

Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Gene Green (D-Texas) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), a founding member of the Congressional E-waste Working Group, introduced a resolution (H.Res. 1395) expressing the opposition of the U.S. House of Representatives to the federal policy allowing toxic electronic waste, or “e-waste,” exports to developing nations. The resolution also calls for the United States to join other developed nations to ban such trade.

“We have introduced this resolution today to draw Congressional and public attention to this pressing problem,” Green said. “Many Americans are unaware that discarded electronics contain lead, mercury, and other toxics and end up being salvaged under inhumane conditions in the developing world.”

Rapid innovation in information technology and consumer electronics means a high turnover rate for electronic devices. Discarded televisions, computers, and other electronics amounted to more than 2.6 million tons of e-waste in 2005, the latest year for which EPA data is available. E-waste disposal is a burden on communities working to reduce the cost and environmental impact of waste, especially since many electronic products contain toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and brominated flame retardants.

State and local governments, manufacturers, retailers, and environmental groups are making progress on recycling e-waste, but these efforts accounted for just 330,000 tons in 2005, or roughly 13% of e-waste. The e-waste problem often gets worse right when the consumer thinks they have done the right thing by recycling. E-waste collected in the United States for recycling or reuse is often exported to developing nations like China, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Thailand for unsafe salvage and metals recovery, according to estimates cited by the Department of Commerce.

“I am encouraged by the efforts to improve e-waste recycling in the United States, but progress is an illusion when ‘recycling’ means exporting e-waste to be picked over by scavengers under hazardous conditions,” Green said.

In towns like Guiyu in China, toxic e-waste is burned in open fires by children with no safety equipment, creating extremely toxic conditions. The documentary film Exporting Harm, the January 2008 issue of National Geographic, and other media and government sources have popularized this issue recently. Making matters even worse, toxic lead recovered from American e-waste in China may make a return trip when it is used to manufacture children’s jewelry sold in the United States, according to a recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal.

“If we export our e-waste improperly, it can come back to haunt us,” Green said. “Instead, we should create jobs by recycling it properly at home.”

Almost all other developed nations ban the export of toxic e-waste to developing nations, but the EPA has determined that most toxic e-waste is not subject to export restrictions. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulates the export of hazardous waste from the United States to other nations, but the EPA has determined that much e-waste is excluded or exempted from the definitions of “waste” and “hazardous waste” under the Act, a major environmental gap in regulation.

“The EPA regulates exports of ‘hazardous waste’ but it imposes little or no regulation on e-waste,” Green said. “If the EPA cannot or will not act to halt the toxic e-waste trade to developing nations, then Congress should take action.”

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Trivia Question of the Week

What is the most energy-efficient, hard drive-equipped desktop computer using only 20–22 watts?

a. Apple Mac Mini
b. Dell Studio Hybrid
c. Lenovo ThinkCenter M57p
d. EeePC