EPA Statement on Canadian Wildfire Smoke and Poor Air Quality Alerts

June 12, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collects data from hundreds of air quality monitors provided by state, local and Tribal air quality agencies, along with crowd-sourced data from air quality sensors. This data underpins the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map, which EPA developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. This tool provides current air quality information, smoke plume locations and recommended actions to take to protect your health – all in one place. The map is available in English and Spanish. In addition to being accessible through EPA’s webpage, the map also is available through the AirNow smartphone app. EPA is promoting these resources through digital channels (see tweet thread from the EPA account, and this thread from the Administrator, and this thread from the AirNow account. EPA has more detailed information resources tailored to specific audiences.[1] EPA will continue to maintain close contact with our state and local partners throughout the region. EPA also provided the statement below to a network of interested reporters.
EPA June 7 Desk Statement
A weather system carries smoke from wildfires in Canada hundreds of miles into the U.S., pushing air quality into the unhealthy or worse categories in areas from the mid-Atlantic through the Northeast and parts of the Upper Great Lakes. EPA encourages people living in these areas to check their Air Quality Index (AQI) throughout the day to see their local air quality and steps to take to reduce smoke exposure and protect their health. Pay attention to any health symptoms if you have asthma, COPD, heart disease, or are pregnant. Get medical help if you need it.
Smoke can cause air quality to change rapidly. Stay up to date on current air quality and forecasts near you through the AirNow app, available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. You also can use the app to check the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map. EPA and the U.S. Forest Service developed the map to give the public information on fire locations, smoke plumes, near real-time air quality and actions to take to protect your health -- all in one place. The map is available at the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map webpage, or by tapping the Smoke icon in the AirNow app. It includes data from hundreds of air quality monitors provided by state and local air quality agencies, along with crowd-sourced data from air quality sensors.
Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and will not have long-lasting health effects. But people with chronic diseases, such as asthma, other lung disease, or cardiovascular disease are at greater risk of experiencing more severe health effects. Children, pregnant people, and people over 65 also are more vulnerable to health effects from smoke exposure Limit your outdoor exercise when it is smoky or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure. When indoors, take steps to keep your indoor air cool and clean. For more tips, see AirNow’s When Smoke is in the Air webpage.
Larger and more intense wildfires are creating the potential for greater smoke production and chronic exposures in the U.S., particularly in the West. Wildfires increase air pollution in surrounding areas and can affect regional air quality. If you have to be outdoors when wildfire smoke is in the air, an N-95 mask can help reduce the smoke you breathe in and potential health risks.
State, local and tribal governments work closely with EPA, the Forest Service, and other departments to maintain a strong monitoring network to help inform the public about local air quality conditions and what steps to take to protect themselves from air pollution and wildfire smoke. This partnership is what makes AirNow.gov work.
Illinois Contractor Ignored City’s Safety Warnings About Deadly Trench Hazards
A Breese contractor who ignored a city engineer's repeated verbal and written instructions to use trench cave-in protection faces penalties after federal workplace safety inspectors found the employer failed to protect workers installing storm sewer lines from potentially deadly trench cave-ins on a least five occasions.
Acting on a City of Waterloo referral, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found five employees of Groundworks Contracting Inc. in trenches as deep as 18 feet on five occasions during its investigation from Nov. 30, 2022 to Jan. 20, 2023 at the Silvercreek Crossing residential housing development.
Inspectors determined the employer put workers at risk by failing to provide required cave-in protection and head protection and by not training employees to recognize cave-in hazards. In addition, OSHA found Groundworks had no competent person on site to inspect trenches before workers entered and, on one occasion, failed to protect a laborer as they were hoisted in an excavator's bucket to work over a 15-foot-deep trench.
Trench collapses are among the construction industry's most deadly hazards. In 2022, 39 workers suffered fatal injuries in trenching and excavation work.
"With help from a concerned City of Waterloo engineer, our inspectors were able to hold Groundworks Contracting Inc. accountable for its failure to protect employees from the threat of trench collapse, one of the construction industry's most lethal hazards," explained OSHA Area Director Aaron Priddy in Fairview Heights, Illinois. "Despite warnings from local authorities, this contractor's callous lack of concern for their employees' safety and well-being is hard to imagine."
Following its investigation, OSHA cited Groundworks Contracting for one willful violation, four serious violations, and one other-than-serious violation of federal trenching and excavation standards, and proposed penalties of $77,147.
OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.
In June, the National Utility Contractors Association annually recognizes Trench Safety Month. OSHA and the NUCA will collaborate for Trench Safety Stand Down Week at hundreds of jobsites nationwide, reaching thousands of workers, from June 19 to 23, 2023.
OSHA's trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions. including a safety video.
EPA Joins Environmental and Community Leaders To Help Design Inter-American University’s Role as New Technical Center for Environmental Justice in PR and USVI
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a listening session with a group of community leaders and environmental entities in Puerto Rico to forge the path forward for the selection of the Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (EJ TCTAC). The Inter-American University of Puerto Rico-Metro Campus (IAUPR) has been selected as the entity to operate the EJ TCTAC and the University will receive $10 million over the next five years to help communities across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands access funding opportunities to advance environmental justice.
“Communities in the Caribbean are too often the most overburdened by environmental degradation and the most impacted by our changing climate. Until now, many communities in Puerto Rico and the USVI did not have the assistance and resources needed to apply for federal money, but this new center will change all of that,” said Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “By providing training, guidance and technical assistance, these Thriving Communities technical centers will help and support communities access federal funding opportunities to better address their environmental and public health challenges. This program is a game changer that will help make considerable progress toward environmental and energy justice.”
“IAUPR is proud to join with several partners to serve and support communities in EPA's Region 2,” said Dr. Yogani Govender, Dean of Science and Technology at Interamerican University. “The IAUPR-EJTCTAC will allow access to essential funds for low income and underserved communities for environmental and energy justice projects that strengthen and increase community adaptation and resilience to climate change. The funding awarded today increases opportunities for organizations to develop capacity in leadership and financial opportunities to build stronger environmental and energy justice partnerships and networks.”
“Congratulations to the InterAmerican University in my district on its new role to support community members and stakeholders in Puerto Rico and USVI as part of the federally funded Environmental Justice Thriving Community Technical Assistance Center initiative. With a $10 million investment, this center will benefit those seeking to navigate the federal system as it provides technical assistance and capacity building to access grants and other federal opportunities available. Through the years, many nonprofits and local entities have benefited from federal aid. This new center will ensure more people can access resources in the environmental and related fields,” said Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón.
IAUPR is among 17 Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers (EJ TCTACs) the EPA announced to receive a total of more than $177 million to remove barriers and improve accessibility for communities with environmental justice concerns. With this critical investment, these centers will provide training and other assistance to build capacity for navigating federal grant application systems, writing strong grant proposals, and effectively managing grant funding. In addition, these centers will provide guidance on community engagement, meeting facilitation, and translation and interpretation services for limited English-speaking participants, thus removing barriers and improving accessibility for communities with environmental justice concerns. Each of the technical assistance centers will also create and manage communication channels to ensure all communities have direct access to resources and information.
Inter-American University of Puerto Rico-Metro Campus (IAUPR) is a private university founded in 1912 with nine campuses throughout Puerto Rico. With the awarded funds, IAUPR will establish several technical centers in Puerto Rico and the USVI to provide technical assistance, training, and support to communities facing environmental and energy justice challenges. These centers aim to "Build Community Capacity, Climate Resilience and Maximizing Benefits to Overburdened and Underserved Communities, increasing EPA support for community-led action by providing investments and benefits directly to communities with environmental justice concerns and integrating equity throughout Agency programs." The technical centers will use a successful model previously implemented by IAUPR in Puerto Rico that will engage grassroots organizations in strengthening institutional capacity through various activities, such as meetings, workshops, webinars, and vision screenings. The centers will be a one-stop shop to provide eligible environmental and energy justice services in underserved, rural, and remote communities.
Illinois Contractor Continues To Expose Roofing Workers to Deadly Fall Hazards
Federal workplace safety inspectors found a Fairmont City roofing contractor continuing to endanger employees to deadly fall hazards by not providing them fall protection, as required by federal law.
Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration observed six roofers removing asphalt shingles on a commercial building in Greenville on April 18, 2023, at heights up to 12 feet without fall protection, and opened an investigation.
OSHA found Juan Zuniga Ramos – operator of JZ Exteriors and Repairs LLC – failed to provide fall protection and train workers on its use. Inspectors learned the company also lacked an accident prevention program and did not have a competent person to inspect work sites for hazards.
Inspectors also noted the contractor failed to use ladders properly, exposed workers to electrical hazards by not de-energizing circuits and did not have a fire extinguisher available in case of an emergency.
The inspection's findings are similar to fall protection violations for which OSHA cited Ramos at a St. Charles, Missouri, worksite in 2019 and, more recently, at a Highland job site in 2022. JZ Exteriors and Repairs LLC currently owes $31,163 in unpaid OSHA penalties.
OSHA cited JZ Exteriors and Repairs LLC for five repeat and four serious violations and one other-than-serious safety violation after the Greenville inspection. The agency has proposed $66,711 in additional penalties.
"Several workplace safety inspections show that Juan Zuniga Ramos is willing to put his employees in danger by exposing them to the real possibility of serious and sometimes fatal fall injuries," said OSHA Area Director Aaron Priddy in Fairview Heights, Illinois. "Falls are a leading cause of death in the construction industry, and yet JZ Exteriors and Repairs has ignored warnings given and fines assessed in OSHA inspections in 2019 and 2022. Ramos must fulfill his responsibility to ensure his workers' safety before tragedy strikes."
OSHA's stop falls website offers safety information and video presentations in English and Spanish to teach workers about fall hazards and proper safety procedures.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations 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 Protects Big Island Water Resources, Orders Extra Space Storage To Pay $130K Penalty  
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Extra Space Management, Inc. and Kaloko Storage 18 LLC, the respective operator and owner of an Extra Space Storage facility on the island of Hawaii. The Extra Space Storage facility has been operating an illegal large capacity cesspool (LCC) at the property. Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA banned LCCs in 2005.
“Illegal large capacity cesspools pose major threats to groundwater and precious coastal resources across Hawai‘i,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “EPA is committed to using our enforcement authority to ensure that all such unlawful cesspools are permanently closed to protect the public health of residents and their vital water resources.”
EPA is authorized to issue compliance orders and/or assess penalties to violators of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s underground injection control regulations. EPA inspected the Extra Space Storage facility in July 2021 and sent an information request in September of that year about the method of wastewater disposal at the property. The agency confirmed there was one LCC in operation at the site. As a result, the LCC was backfilled in December 2022 and Extra Space Management Inc. and Kaloko Storage 18 LLC agreed to pay a $130,000 penalty.
Cesspools collect and release untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater, streams, and the ocean.
Since the 2005 federal ban, more than 3,750 large capacity cesspools in Hawaii have been closed; however, hundreds remain in operation. Cesspools are used more widely in Hawaii than any other state and pose a unique challenge as groundwater provides 95 percent of all water supply for the islands.
To encourage regulated entities to voluntarily discover, promptly disclose, and expeditiously close these pollution-causing systems, EPA provides penalty mitigation and other incentives for companies that proactively find and close LCCs on their property. Information on how to self-disclose potential large-capacity cesspool violations is available here.
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