How Much Are You Polluting Your Office Air Just by Existing?

October 07, 2019
Just by breathing or wearing deodorant, you have more influence over your office space than you might think, a growing body of evidence shows. But could these basic acts of existence also be polluting the air in the office room where you work?
To find out, a team of engineers at Purdue University has been conducting one of the largest studies of its kind in the office spaces of a building rigged with thousands of sensors. The goal is to identify all types of indoor air contaminants and recommend ways to control them through how a building is designed and operated.
“If we want to provide better air quality for office workers to improve their productivity, it is important to first understand what’s in the air and what factors influence the emissions and removal of pollutants,” said Brandon Boor, an assistant professor of civil engineering with a courtesy appointment in environmental and ecological engineering.
The data is showing that people and ventilation systems greatly impact the chemistry of indoor air – possibly more than anything else in an office space. The researchers will present their initial findings at the 2019 American Association for Aerosol Research Conference in Portland, Oregon, Oct. 14-18.
“The chemistry of indoor air is dynamic. It changes throughout the day based on outdoor conditions, how the ventilation system operates and occupancy patterns in the office,” Boor said.
The building, called the Living Labs at Purdue’s Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, uses an array of sensors to precisely monitor four open-plan office spaces and to track the flow of indoor and outdoor air through the ventilation system. The team developed a new technique to track occupancy by embedding temperature sensors in each desk chair.
Through use of the Living Labs, Boor’s team has begun to identify previously unknown behaviors of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, such as how they are transformed in ventilation systems and removed by filters.
“We wanted to shed light on the behind-the-scenes role ventilation systems have on the air we breathe,” Boor said.
Boor teamed up with researchers at RJ Lee Group to deploy a highly sensitive “nose” – an instrument that scientists call a proton transfer reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer. The instrument, typically used for measuring outdoor air quality, helped “sniff” out compounds in human breath, such as isoprene, in real time. Boor’s team found that isoprene and many other volatile compounds linger in the office even after people have left the room.
A greater number of people in a room also means more emissions of these compounds. A YouTube video is available at
“Our preliminary results suggest that people are the dominant source of volatile organic compounds in a modern office environment,” Boor said. “We found levels of many compounds to be 10 to 20 times higher indoors than outdoors. If an office space is not properly ventilated, these volatile compounds may adversely affect worker health and productivity.”
The team also revealed that a pollutant entering from outside, ozone, disappears inside. This is because ozone interacts with other indoor compounds and the vast surfaces of a furnished office. The researchers found that ozone and compounds released from peeling an orange, called monoterpenes, mix to form new, super-tiny particles as small as one-billionth of a meter. The newly formed particles could be toxic because they are small enough to get into the deepest regions of a person’s lungs.
The effects of volatile compounds released in an office might not just be restricted to indoors. The researchers believe that chemicals emitted from self-care products such as deodorant, makeup, and hair spray may elevate levels outdoors as they are vented outside by the ventilation system.
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Ditch the Delicate Wash Cycle to Save Our Seas
New research led by Newcastle University has shown that it is the volume of water used during the wash cycle, rather than the spinning action of the washing machine, which is the key factor in the release of plastic microfibers from clothes.
Millions of plastic microfibers are shed every time we wash clothes that contain materials such as nylon, polyester and acrylic. Because these fibers are so small, they drain out of our washing machines and can ultimately enter the marine environment.
Once in the ocean, they are ingested by the animals living there and two years ago Newcastle University scientists showed for the first time these fibers have now reached the deepest parts of our ocean.
Working with Procter & Gamble in Newcastle, the team measured the release of plastic microfibers from polyester clothing for a range of cycles and water volumes.
Counting the fibers released, the team found the higher the volume of water the more fibers released, regardless of the speed and abrasive forces of the washing machine.  In fact, they found that on average, 800,000 more fibers were released in a delicate wash than a standard cycle.
Publishing their findings in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology, PhD student Max Kelly, who led the research, explained, “Counterintuitively, we discovered that ‘delicate’ cycles release more plastic microfibers into the water, and then the environment, than standard cycles. Previous research has suggested the speed the drum spins at, the number of times it changes spinning direction during a cycle and the length of pauses in the cycle – all known as the machine agitation – is the most important factor in the amount of microfibers released. But we have shown here that even at reduced levels of agitation, microfiber release is still greatest with higher water-volume-to-fabric ratios. This is because the high volume of water used in a delicate cycle which is supposed to protect sensitive clothing from damage actually ‘plucks’ away more fibers from the material.”
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest challenges facing society today and understanding the key sources is an important process to help reduce our impact on the environment.
Laundry has been recognized as a major contributor of microplastics but until now, precisely measuring the release of these fibers has been difficult due to the fact that it’s almost impossible to accurately simulate the reality of what happens in people’s machines in a lab setting.
Using a tergotometer - a benchtop device comprising of eight (1000 mL) washing vessels that simulate full-scale domestic washing, the team were able to carry out tests under different conditions, making changes to water volume, spin speed, temperature and time.
A DigiEye camera – digital color imaging system - was then used to accurately calculate the number of microfibers released. To test whether the observations made using the tergotometers were reflective of full-size domestic washing machines, the team then tested the fabrics on a delicate wash cycle using identical washing machines in the test center at Procter and Gamble (P&G).
The team showed that previous recommendations by groups to move towards high water volumes and low levels of agitation as a way of reducing the amount of microfiber released was actually making the problem worse.
Neil Lant, Research Fellow at P&G and co-author on the study, said, “the appliance industry has started to introduce microfiber filters in some new washing machines and the textile industry is looking to reduce the fiber shedding levels of new clothing. We hope that the issue will ultimately be solved by such actions, and our work on the mechanistic causes will help in the development of these solutions.”
Max Kelly added “reducing the amount of plastic pollution is everyone’s responsibility and often it’s the small changes that make a huge difference. By avoiding high water-volume-to-fabric washes such as the delicate cycles and ensuring full wash loads then we can all do our bit to help reduce the amount of these synthetic fibers being released into the environment. Hopefully, these findings may also be used by manufacturers to influence the design of future washing machines and reduce our plastic footprint. Over time these changes could also see a global reduction in the amount of energy and water required to wash our clothes.”
Environmental Toxins Impair Immune System over Multiple Generations
New research shows that maternal exposure to a common and ubiquitous form of industrial pollution can harm the immune system of offspring and that this injury is passed along to subsequent generations, weakening the body’s defenses against infections such as the influenza virus.
The study was led by Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Department of Environmental Medicine and appears in the Cell Press journal iScience. The research was conducted in mice, whose immune system function is similar to humans. 
“The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health,” said Lawrence. “But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.”
While other studies have shown that environmental exposure to pollutants can have effects on the reproductive, respiratory, and nervous system function across multiple generations, the new research shows for the first time that the immune system is impacted as well. 
This multigenerational weakening of the immune system could help explain variations that are observed during seasonal and pandemic flu episodes. Annual flu vaccines provide some people more protection than others, and during pandemic flu outbreaks some people get severely ill, while others are able to fight off the infection.  While age, virus mutations, and other factors can explain some of this variation, they do not fully account for the diversity of responses to flu infection found in the general population.
“When you are infected or receive a flu vaccine, the immune system ramps up production of specific kinds of white blood cells in response,” said Lawrence. “The larger the response, the larger the army of white blood cells, enhancing the ability of the body to successfully fight off an infection. Having a smaller size army – which we see across multiple generations of mice in this study – means that you're at risk for not fighting the infection as effectively.”
In the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to environmentally relevant levels of a chemical called dioxin, which, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is a common by-product of industrial production and waste incineration, and is also found in some consumer products. These chemicals find their way into the food system where they are eventually consumed by humans. Dioxins and PCBs bio-accumulate as they move up the food chain and are found in greater concentrations in animal-based food products. 
The scientists observed the production and function of cytotoxic T cells -- white blood cells that defend the body against foreign pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, and seek out and destroy cells with mutations that could lead to cancer – was impaired when the mice were infected with influenza A virus. This weakened immune response was observed not only in the offspring of the mice whose mothers where exposed to dioxin, but in the subsequent generations, including as far out as the rodent equivalent of great-grandchildren.   The researchers also found that this effect was more pronounced in female mice. 
The study authors’ hypothesis that the exposure to dioxin – which binds a protein in cells called AHR – in some fashion alters the transcription of genetic instructions. The exposure itself does not trigger a genetic mutation, rather the cellular machinery by which genes are expressed is altered and this phenomenon is passed onto subsequent generations.
Court Just Reversed Gutting of Cross-State Ozone Rule
New York Attorney General Letitia James released the following statement in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit’s decision in New York et al. v. EPA, No. 19-1019, sustaining New York’s challenge to a Trump-era EPA rule that would have gutted standards regulating ozone emissions:
“New Yorkers have a right to clean, healthy air. But the fact is, over two-thirds of New Yorkers regularly breathe unhealthy air due to smog pollution. We will continue our battle to compel the Trump Administration to follow the law in our effort to fight this public health hazard and to uphold New Yorkers’ legal right to clean, healthy air.”
In the Close-Out Rule, EPA said it had sufficiently addressed its obligation under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor provision” to prohibit upwind ozone pollution that substantially interferes with the ability of downwind states like New York to meet the 2008 ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. But the Court agreed that was not enough. On September 13, the DC Circuit in Wisconsin v. EPA struck down a key part of a related rule known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update because it allowed continued upwind emissions beyond downwind states’ next applicable attainment deadlines. Similarly, the Court vacated the Close Out Rule because EPA failed to require upwind states to reduce their pollution by New York’s next applicable attainment deadline in 2021.
The decision will require EPA to place tighter limits on industrial sources of air pollution. Currently, 49 counties with more than 36 million people in the Eastern United States and Texas suffer from ozone levels that exceed the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Ozone exposure at this level and below can result in chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, scarring of the lungs, and premature death, and is particularly harmful to children. The areas of the country that suffer from unhealthy air due to cross-state pollution are disproportionately home to communities of color.
New York led a group of state and local governments including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the City of New York in challenging the Close-Out Rule. The state petitioners were also joined by several private groups in challenging the rule.
Concrete Crusade: DEQ’s Initiative to Reduce Carbon Emissions with a Different Kind of Concrete
Businesses and governments looking to reduce their carbon footprint are turning to an unlikely source: concrete. The ubiquitous product—used in roads, bridges, buildings and sidewalks—is responsible for about 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. 

“Concrete is the second most consumed substance on Earth after water,” said Jay Mustard, materials management specialist for DEQ’s Eastern Region. “We pave a lot of this planet.” 

Now concrete producers, with the help of DEQ, are measuring and reporting the environmental impacts of different mixtures to meet market demands for greener concrete. 

Traditional concrete mixtures use cement as the glue that holds the rocks and sand together. Cement is derived from limestone, which is naturally high in carbon dioxide. When limestone is heated to very high temperatures during the cement production process, it releases its naturally occurring carbon dioxide. About half of the carbon emissions produced during this process are from the limestone itself, with the other half coming from the fossil fuels burned to generate heat for the kiln. 

Lower-carbon formulas use a cement alternative like slag, a byproduct of steel manufacturing that would otherwise be headed for a landfill. There are several other substitutes that also have significantly lower carbon emissions than cement. These alternatives can reduce carbon emissions from concrete up to 50 percent and are usually available at a similar price. 

Jordan Palmeri, senior policy analyst in DEQ’s Headquarters, has worked with local Oregon concrete producers, including CalPortland, Hooker Creek and Knife River, to develop Environmental Product Declarations for several concrete mixtures. These third-party certifications provide consumers information about the environmental impacts of making the product—similar to nutritional labels on food products. 

Having an Environmental Product Declaration scores points in the LEED green building rating system and is a selling point for local governments and businesses that have carbon reduction goals. DEQ runs a voluntary program with the Oregon Concrete and Aggregate Producers Association that provides concrete producers with resources and financial incentives to develop these declarations. 

“This is one of these options where the technology, materials, opportunity is there -- it just needs to be used more,” said Palmeri. 

Because of DEQ’s work, the city of Portland recently passed an ordinance requiring concrete Environmental Product Declarations to be submitted on all city construction projects, and the city of Bend incorporated recommendations about concrete into its forthcoming Climate Action Plan, which the Bend City Council is scheduled to vote on early this winter. 

Mustard is also advising Facebook’s sustainability director on the possibility of using low-carbon concrete for the massive data centers Facebook is building in Prineville and other locations around the world. 

“Getting cities and businesses to switch to low-carbon mixtures can have a huge impact,” said Mustard. “And I think they’re going to do it.” 

Learn more about the tools DEQ and partners developed to support low-carbon concrete at the Oregon Concrete Environmental Product Declaration Program webpage:
Company President Faces 15 Years in Prison for Air Violations
After a five-day trial, a jury convicted the former president and director of Custom Carbon Processing, Inc. of multiple violations of the federal Clean Air Act after a 2012 explosion at the company’s oil processing plant in Wibaux injured three employees and caused extensive damage to the plant, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
The jury found Peter Margiotta, 62, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, guilty of all three counts in an indictment, including conspiracy, Clean Air Act—general duty and Clean Air Act-knowing endangerment. Margiotta faces a maximum 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine for an individual, a $1 million fine for an organization and three years of supervised release on the knowing endangerment crime.
The jury trial began on Sept. 23. U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters did not immediately set a sentencing date and continued Margiotta’s release.
“Cutting corners in the construction and operation of the oil processing plant violated the Clean Air Act, compromised the safety of employees and resulted in an explosion that injured three workers. Mr. Margiotta’s conviction should send the message that compliance with environmental regulations is required and that we will prosecute violators,” U.S. Attorney Alme said. “I also want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Dake, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric E. Nelson, the EPA and the DOT Office of Inspector General for their work in prosecuting and investigating this case.”
“We believe today’s conviction sends a strong message to those responsible for properly handling hazardous material,” said Jeffrey Dubsick, Regional Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we will continue our vigorous efforts to protect against those who would risk the safety of the public and the environment for personal gain.”
The prosecution presented evidence at trial of the following:
  • Margiotta was president and director of Custom Carbon Processing, Inc., a Wyoming company, which constructed the Michels Disposal Well and Oil Reclamation Facility in Wibaux in 2012. The construction was done in ways that allowed hydrocarbon vapors, extremely hazardous substances and hazardous air pollutants to be released into the air.
  • On July 4, 2012, Margiotta directed the opening of the plant before the implementation of appropriate electrical wiring, ventilation and other safety measures. On that date, the project manager emailed Margiotta, “The control panels must be moved asap with the explosion proof wiring. We also run the risk of killing someone, not only our operators but also customers.”
  • Margiotta also directed employees to accept shipments of highly volatile and flammable “natural gas condensate” or “drip gas” into the operations in a purported effort to help thin and process the slop oil at the plant.
  • Beginning in October 2012, Margiotta disregarded repeated warnings from the plant’s foreman that the natural gas condensate was not effective in thinning the slop oil and instead was creating a dangerous situation because of its highly volatile and flammable nature.
  • On Dec. 29, 2012, the plant accepted a delivery of natural gas condensate. During the offloading of the material at the plant, hazardous and flammable vapors from the natural gas condensate filled the plant building and spread out the open bay doors where the truck delivering the condensate was located. The vapors reached an ignition source, causing an explosion that injured three employees and extensive damage to the plant, the truck and trailer involved in the delivery.
AUSA Bryan Dake and SAUSA Eric Nelson prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the EPA and the DOT of Inspector General.
Naval Air Weapons Station Cited for Hazardous Waste Violations
EPA announced a settlement with the Department of the Navy for improperly managing hazardous waste at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake. Under the agreement, the federal facility will pay a $23,700 penalty.
“It is critical for federal agencies to comply with laws that protect public health and our natural resources,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “This agreement will bring the Department of the Navy into compliance with hazardous waste laws and help minimize the potential for hazardous waste releases to the environment.”
The Naval Air Weapons Station - China Lake is in the Western Mojave Desert region of California, approximately 150 miles north of Los Angeles. Operations at the facility include research and development of explosive materials and weapons, aircraft maintenance, facilities maintenance operations, metal fabrication operations, and storage of hazardous materials and waste. EPA’s 2018 inspections identified violations of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations. RCRA rules require the safe management of hazardous waste to protect public health and the environment and to prevent the need for costly and extensive cleanups.
Violations identified during the inspection included:
  • Failure to comply with a permit condition that requires deteriorating containers to be replaced or put inside larger containers in good condition at the point of generation
  • Failure to keep hazardous waste containers closed
  • Failure to properly manage universal wastes
The facility has resolved the identified violations and is now in compliance with the RCRA requirements.
Chemical Manufacturer Cited for Violation of Hazardous Waste Air Emission Standards
A Newburyport, Massachusetts company that makes chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry signed an agreement with the EPA to make the company safer for employees and the environment. The settlement with Polycarbon Industries (PCI) includes a $50,210 fine and $152,000 in projects that will protect human health and the environment.
To settle charges by EPA that the company violated federal and state hazardous waste laws, PCI of 9 Opportunity Way in Newburyport agreed to buy and operate a system to monitor emissions of hazardous wastes and other gas emissions inside the manufacturing and laboratory areas of its facility. The company will also plant 63 trees in Newburyport as a Supplementary Environmental Project that will reduce air pollution in the Newburyport area.
"PCI will ensure the environment and workers are protected in the future by taking the steps needed to come into compliance," said EPA Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel. "This is important because these violations could have resulted in the release of hazardous wastes to the environment."
In its manufacturing process, PCI generates hazardous wastes such as toluene, methylene chloride, acetone and methanol. The most significant violations were that the company failed to comply with regulations designed to prevent releases of hazardous waste for four hazardous waste tanks and failed to comply with hazardous waste air emission standards for those tanks, as well as associated equipment that came into contact with the waste.
Under the settlement, the company will comply with hazardous waste tank and air emission requirements for four tanks that were not being managed according to federal and state hazardous waste requirements.
The case stems from a June 2017 inspection of the facility, which was part of a national compliance initiative regarding hazardous waste air emissions.
Six Companies Cited for Violating California Air Emission Rules
EPA announced recent settlements with six companies totaling over $450,000 in penalties for violating the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Truck and Bus Regulation and Drayage Truck Regulation. The companies either failed to install particulate filters on their own heavy-duty diesel trucks, failed to verify that trucks they hired for use in California complied with the state rules, or failed to maintain required records. As part of one of the settlements, $90,000 will be spent on an air filtration system at one or more schools in the South Coast Air Basin.
“Heavy-duty trucks can emit drastically higher levels of pollution when not equipped with required emissions controls,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “Transport companies must comply with California’s rule to improve air quality and protect adjacent communities from breathing these toxic pollutants.”
Diesel emissions from trucks are one of the state’s largest sources of fine particle pollution, or soot, which is linked to a variety of health issues, including asthma, impaired lung development in children, and cardiovascular effects in adults. About 625,000 trucks are registered outside of the state but operate in California and are subject to the rule. Many of these vehicles are older models and emit high amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.
The announcement highlights separate administrative settlement agreements with the following companies:
The Coca-Cola Company failed to verify that 63 of the carriers it hired in California from 2015 to 2017 complied with the Truck and Bus rule. In addition, the company dispatched drayage trucks that did not meet emission standards and failed to verify that their contracted truck owners were registered with the CARB’s Drayage Truck Registry. The company, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, agreed to pay a $145,000 penalty.
Mercer Transportation Company Inc. failed to verify that their contracted truck owners were registered with the CARB’s Drayage Truck Registry and failed to maintain records. The company, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, failed to comply with CARB’s regulation governing drayage moves destined to or from California ports from 2015 to 2017. Mercer Transportation Company agreed to pay a $46,787 civil penalty.
Liquid Transport LLC and Liquid Transport Corp. operated heavy-duty diesel trucks in California from 2014 to 2017 without the required diesel particulate filters. The companies also failed to verify that 122 of the carriers it hired to transport goods in California complied with the Truck and Bus rule. In addition, the firms owned and dispatched 22 drayage trucks that did not meet emission standards and were not registered with CARB’s Drayage Truck Registry. The companies, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty.
Dean Foods Company operated 14 heavy-duty diesel trucks from 2014 to 2017 without the required diesel particulate filters and failed to maintain records for 40 vehicles. The company, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, agreed to pay a $30,000 civil penalty and will spend $90,000 on a supplemental environmental project to install an air filtration system to reduce harmful air pollutants in classrooms in one or more schools in the South Coast Air Basin, which includes Orange County and parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
D&E Transport LLC operated 26 heavy-duty diesel trucks in California from 2014 to 2017 without the required diesel particulate filters. The company also failed to verify that 104 of the carriers it hired to transport goods in California complied with the Truck and Bus rule. The company, headquartered in Clearwater, Minnesota, agreed to pay a $55,000 civil penalty.
Flat Creek Transportation LLC operated 24 heavy-duty diesel trucks in California from 2014 to 2018 without the required diesel particulate filters and failed to maintain records for 63 vehicles. The company, headquartered in Kinston, Alabama, agreed to pay a $71,250 penalty.
The California Truck and Bus Regulation has been an essential part of the state’s federally enforceable plan to attain cleaner air since 2012. The rule requires trucking companies to upgrade vehicles they own to meet specific NOx and particulate matter performance standards and to verify compliance of vehicles they hire or dispatch. Heavy-duty diesel trucks in California must meet 2010 engine emissions standards or use diesel particulate filters that can reduce the emissions of diesel particulates into the atmosphere by 85% or more.
The California Drayage Truck Regulation was also adopted into federal Clean Air Act plan requirements in 2012 and applies to owners and operators of drayage trucks operating in California, motor carriers that dispatch such vehicles, marine or port terminals, and intermodal rail yards. In particular, the Drayage Truck Regulation requires owners and operators of drayage trucks operating in California to meet specific emissions standards and register such trucks with the Drayage Truck Registry administered by the California Air Resources Board.
Growers Ice Company Required to Improve Chemical Safety at Salinas Facility
EPA announced a settlement with Growers Ice Company for violations of federal chemical release prevention and reporting requirements at its fresh produce storage and distribution facility located in Salinas. The company will pay a $30,000 civil penalty and spend approximately $105,000 to further reduce the risk of chemical accidents and provide environmental benefits at its facility.
In 2017, EPA inspectors found violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan regulations at the Salinas facility. The violations included deficiencies in the plant’s process safety requirements, pipe labeling, operating procedures, mechanical integrity program, documentation of personnel training, and follow-up on compliance audit findings.
“Companies using large quantities of chemicals must take steps to prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “We are pleased that the company will upgrade equipment and controls, beyond what is required by law, to protect the health and safety of plant workers and the community.”
Thousands of facilities nationwide, many of which are in disproportionately affected communities, make, use and store extremely hazardous substances. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities—historically about 150 each year—result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and other harm to human health and the environment. This case is part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative to reduce risks of accidental releases at anhydrous ammonia refrigeration facilities. Growers Ice Company’s industrial refrigeration system uses large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical highly corrosive to skin, eyes and lungs.
Growers Ice Company has addressed the identified violations. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to complete a supplemental environmental project valued at $105,000 to enhance safety equipment and procedures at the Salinas facility. The project includes installing new pumps and a new control system, which would allow an operator or emergency responder to remotely shut down the ammonia refrigeration systems, including in an emergency situation.
The Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requires facilities with regulated hazardous substances to document hazard assessments detailing the potential effects of an accidental release and a prevention program that includes safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring, and employee training measures. When properly implemented, risk management plans help prevent chemical accidents and minimize their impact should they occur.
Pennsylvania Has Joined Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
On October 3, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf took executive action instructing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based collaboration among nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change while generating economic growth.
“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Governor Wolf. “Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound and immediate steps to reduce emissions. Joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”
Participating states have agreed, either through regulation or legislation, to implement RGGI through a regional cap-and-trade program involving CO2 emitting electric power plants. These states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) set a cap on total CO2 emissions from electric power generators in their states. In order to show compliance with the cap, power plants must purchase a credit or “allowance,” for each ton of CO2, they emit. These purchases are made at quarterly auctions conducted by RGGI. The most recent RGGI auction held September 4th resulted in an allowance price of $5.20 per ton. The proceeds from the auctions are allocated back to the participating states in proportion to the amount of carbon subject to regulation in each state.
“This initiative represents a unique opportunity for Pennsylvania to become a leader in combatting climate change and grow our economy by partnering with neighboring states,” said Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. “As a major electricity producer, Pennsylvania has a significant opportunity to reduce emissions and demonstrate its commitment to addressing climate change through a program with a proven track record.”
The RGGI states have reduced power sector CO2 pollution by 45 percent since 2005, while the region’s per-capita GDP has continued to grow. Through its first six years of existence, RGGI investments were found to return $2.31 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 161,000 households and 6,000 businesses that participated in programs funded by RGGI proceeds, and to 1.5 million households and over 37,000 businesses that received direct bill assistance.
Pennsylvania exports nearly a third of the electricity it produces, and the cost of RGGI compliance for exported electricity will be paid by electric customers in the states where that electricity is ultimately used.
“We know that we can’t complete this process in a vacuum. The conversation we’ve begun over the past year needs to continue if we are going to craft regulations that fit Pennsylvania’s unique energy mix, while making sure that the transition to a cleaner energy mix doesn’t leave behind workers and communities our state has relied on for decades to produce its power,” said Gov. Wolf. “And it will take buy in from the legislature to ensure we’re protecting Pennsylvanians from the increasing effects of the climate crisis.”
Reducing CO2 emissions as part of combatting climate change is a top priority for the Wolf Administration. In January, Governor Wolf signed an executive order to set Pennsylvania’s first statewide climate goals, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025 and by 80 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.
The scientific consensus is the planet is experiencing climate change in real time, and the impacts are felt everywhere. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update found that Pennsylvania has undergone a long-term warming over the prior 110 years, and that current warming trends are expected to increase at an accelerated rate with average temperatures projected to increase an additional 5.4 degrees by 2050. Average annual precipitation has also increased by approximately 10 percent over the past 100 years and, by 2050, is expected to increase by an additional 8 percent.
The numerous negative effects of these warming and wetting trends are currently being experienced in Pennsylvania. Last year was the wettest year on record in the commonwealth, and these increases in rainfall resulted in extreme weather events and flooding throughout the state costing residents an estimated $144 million in reported damages, and at least $125 million in state-maintained road and bridges damage throughout the state
“We are seeing the immediate and devastating impact of climate change right here in Pennsylvania, with more intense rain storms leading to flooding occurring outside flood zones, and dry conditions that can increase the threat of fire in our wooded areas,” said Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. “Combatting climate change demands cooperation among many state agencies but also a proactive approach, and joining RGGI will help reduce carbon emissions, which will, in turn, reduce the threat of weather-related natural disasters.”
Following the governor’s executive order, DEP will draft a regulation to present before the Environmental Quality Board for approval, and a public comment period will follow. As directed in the Executive Order, DEP will conduct robust outreach to the business community, energy producers, and labor and environmental stakeholders. 
Read the full executive order.
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