EPA Reaches Agreement with California Department of Corrections over CWA Violations

September 25, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has entered into an Administrative Order on Consent with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for claims of Clean Water Act violations at the California Men’s Colony wastewater treatment plant located in San Luis Obispo, California. The treatment plant failed to properly operate and maintain all wastewater facilities and systems of control as required by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued under the authority of the Clean Water Act.
“This order ensures that the California Men’s Colony treatment plant will take action to prevent further discharges of dangerous levels of pollution into Chorro Creek, which flows into the ocean,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “Compliance with the Clean Water Act permit – and all the pollutant limits enshrined in that permit – is essential to protecting public health and the environment, and with our state partners EPA will continue to provide vigilant oversight.”
The California Men’s Colony treatment plant is authorized to discharge wastewater via a Clean Water Act permit issued by the State of California’s Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). The treatment plant conveys and treats domestic wastewater from the California Men’s Colony East and West Facilities, Camp San Luis Obispo (a National Guard training site), Cuesta College, and San Luis Obispo County facilities including El Chorro Regional Park, Dairy Creek Golf Course, Education Center, and County Operational Facility. The service area for the treatment plant includes approximately 13,000 acres with an estimated population served of 16,000. Treated wastewater is discharged into Chorro Creek, which flows to the Morro Bay Estuary and the Pacific Ocean
EPA and the Water Boards conducted a series of inspections and investigations at the California Men’s Colony between May 2021 and April 2022. Inspectors found that critical infrastructure had not been maintained or operated properly, resulting in (1) violations of permit effluent limits for total nitrogen, pH, copper, total coliform, and multiple toxic pollutants; (2) plastics passing through the treatment system into Chorro Creek; (3) over 6,000 gallons of sanitary sewer overflows reaching Chorro Creek; and (4) unauthorized discharges from the on-site drinking water treatment and distribution system to Chorro Creek.
EPA and the California Men’s Colony have agreed that the Colony will take action necessary to resolve these violations of the Clean Water Act. Requirements of the consent agreement being announced today include analysis of the wastewater treatment plant to determine the causes of treatment inefficiencies and pollutant pass-through, work to address these deficiencies, and repair of water infrastructure – including a leaking drinking water tank – in order to stop unauthorized discharges from the facility to Chorro Creek.
An Administrative Order on Consent is a legal agreement signed by EPA and an individual, business, or other entity through which the entity agrees to take an action, refrain from an activity, or pay certain costs. It describes the actions to be taken, applies to civil actions, and can be enforced in court. In limited instances it may be subject to a public comment period.
Federal Investigation Finds Houston Glass Company Repeatedly Exposed Employees to Hazards
A U.S. Department of Labor workplace safety investigation has found that a Houston-based contractor willfully and repeatedly exposed its workers to falls, electrical hazards and amputations.
Following a March 9, 2023, complaint, investigators with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found nine serious violations, one willful violation and three repeat violations related to the following safety failures:
  • Not having required lockout/tagout procedures in place.
  • Exposing employees to fall hazards.
  • Not enclosing sprocket wheels and chains.
  • Allowing unguarded projecting shaft ends.
OSHA previously inspected the employer in January 2021, March 2021 and May 2021.
The agency has proposed $370,995 in penalties.
"Strategic Materials Inc. continues to expose workers to some of general industry's leading causes of workplace injuries and death," said OSHA Area Director Timothy Minor in Fort Worth, Texas. "Employers who willfully disregard their responsibility to keep workers safe will be held accountable."
Based in Houston, Strategic Materials Inc. employs more than 750 workers who supply recycled glass to manufacturers.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of citation and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
EPA Kicks Off Eleventh Annual SepticSmart Week
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is joining state and local partners to launch SepticSmart Week 2023, a week-long annual campaign to educate homeowners and renters on how to properly maintain their septic systems. When septic systems are well-functioning, the health of the nation’s communities and ecosystems is better protected. By being SepticSmart, homeowners can also avoid thousands of dollars in unnecessary repairs.
“Everyone plays a role in protecting themselves, their neighbors, and the environment from wastewater contamination,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, Radhika Fox. “During the eleventh annual SepticSmart week, I encourage homeowners to learn about EPA’s simple strategies to save money and safeguard communities.”
SepticSmart week is a partnership between EPA, state, Tribal, and local officials, wastewater professionals, and homeowners. See below for SepticSmart tips to follow:
  • Think at the Sink: What goes down the drain has a big impact on your septic system. Fats, grease, and solids can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: A toilet is not a trash can. Disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, coffee grounds, cigarette butts, and cat litter can damage a septic system.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Use water efficiently and stagger use of water-based appliances. Too much water use at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield Your Field: Tree and shrub roots, cars, and livestock can damage your septic drainfield.
  • Keep It Clean: Contamination can occur when a septic system leaks due to improper maintenance. Be sure your drinking water is safe to drink by testing it regularly.
  • Protect It and Inspect It: Regular septic system maintenance can save homeowners thousands of dollars in repairs and protect public health.
  • Pump Your Tank: Ensure your septic tank is pumped at regularly intervals as recommended by a professional and/or local permitting authority.
In addition to the SepticSmart program, resources and support are available for communities that face challenges with their decentralized wastewater systems. Through the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are jointly leveraging technical assistance resources to help disadvantaged communities identify and pursue federal funding opportunities to address their wastewater needs. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law presents a historic opportunity to invest in septic upgrades, community wastewater systems, and sewer connections.
Department of Labor Finds Tamuning Contractor Endangered Employees Despite Knowing the Risks 
Two weeks after federal workplace safety inspectors warned the operator of a Tamuning construction company of hazardous conditions facing employees working in an excavation, they returned to find the company again exposing workers to potentially deadly trench hazards as they installed a sewer line at the Paradise Court subdivision in Mangilao.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Superman Corp. after a May 2023 inspection for two serious violations related to the company's failures to provide adequate means to enter and exit the trench within 25 feet of the workers and test oxygen levels in the trench before employees entered.
OSHA also cited the company with a willful violation after the agency determined Allen Kim, president of Superman Corp., failed to provide required protection from cave-ins for employees working in an excavation. Investigators learned Kim was trained previously on trenching and trench safety and had been warned repeatedly of related hazards by peers and engineers that visited the site before OSHA's inspection. In addition, Kim admitted to safety officers that he was aware that motorized equipment operating near the trench was causing debris to fall in the trench and that the equipment’s vibrations increased the risk of collapse.
Superman Corp. faces $73,219 in proposed penalties for the violations.
"Working in a trench is demanding and dangerous work that requires specific precautions and protections to keep workers safe," explained OSHA Area Office Director Roger Forstner in Honolulu. "By running soil compactors and excavators within 20 feet of workers in the trench and failing to provide accessible ladders, Superman Corp. chose to put production before safety, endangering the lives of its employees."
Trench collapses are among the serious dangers in the construction industry. Excavations can collapse in seconds and can potentially bury workers under cubic yards of soil, each weighing as much as 3,000 lbs. In 2022, OSHA reported that at least 39 industry workers died. From 2011 to 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 166 workers died in trench collapses.
OSHA has a National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems in trenches deeper than 5 feet. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.
Millersburg Contractor Faces More Than $548K in Fines for Exposing Employees to Fall Hazards
On four occasions in less than three months in 2023, U.S. Department of Labor inspectors observed a Millersburg roofing contractor again exposing workers to deadly fall hazards of up to 19 feet at four residential roofing job sites in Canton, Uniontown and Westlake, despite having fall protection equipment available on site.
Following its March, April and June investigations, the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $548,801 in penalties to JMH Roofing LLC, after identifying eight willful and two repeat violations. Jonas Hershberger operates JMH Roofing LLC and RAM Roofing LLC. The current citations continue Hershberger's history of disregard for workplace safety regulations with numerous citations to these two companies since 2018.
"Jonas Hershberger continues his dangerous pattern of ignoring federal safety standards and exposing his workers to potentially serious and fatal injuries," explained OSHA Area Director Howard Eberts in Cleveland. "JMH Roofing owns fall protection equipment and provides it to its workers, but refuses to require them to use it or cooperate with federal inspectors, who repeatedly inform Hershberger of his obligation to protect his company's workers on the job."
OSHA conducted the inspections in 2023 on March 9 and 28 in Uniontown, on April 19 at two sites in Canton, and on June 1 in Westlake.
At all worksites, inspectors observed roofing workers at heights greater than 6 feet without fall protection and lacking eye protection while using pneumatic nail guns. The company also allowed workers to work without properly extended ladders.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1,015 construction workers died on the job in 2021, with 379 of those fatalities related to falls from elevation. Exposure to fall hazards makes residential construction work among the most dangerous jobs in construction.
EPA Seeks Participants for Environmental Justice Academy in East St. Louis, Illinois
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is accepting applications for the Environmental Justice Academy, a training program to help emerging community, non-profit and environmental leaders cultivate skills to identify and address environmental challenges in their communities. The academy will take place in East St. Louis, Illinois, and is co-sponsored with the Kapal Foundation (Kappa House) and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“The EJ Academy is an important part of EPA’s commitment to support community-led environmental justice initiatives,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore. “It will give participants a chance to develop the skills to identify environmental challenges and to solve problems collaboratively.”
The EJ Academy is expected to start in January and consists of a ten-month program of courses, assignments, and projects. Course material is shaped around specific community requests. It will include information on tools such as EJSCREEN, as well as laws and regulations relating to environmental justice and collaborative problem-solving approaches. The academy will be held in a hybrid form, with Wednesday sessions hosted virtually and Saturday sessions on-site in East St. Louis at Kappa House. 
Any Metro East resident over 16 years old is eligible to apply. The application is posted on the Metro East Environmental Justice Academy website. Applications are open through November 3.
EPA will host an information session about the EJ Academy on Wednesday, September 20, at the Cahokia Public Library District from 6-7 p.m. Information will be shared on the application process, scheduling logistics, and the purpose of the academy.  
For more information about the Environmental Justice Academy, click here.
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