April 17, 2023
Following the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, USDOT has been pushing a set of sweeping reforms to rail safety and called on Congress to support a budget that improves critical rail infrastructure and ensures rail inspections continue without interruption.
In the latest action to improve safety in communities across the country, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is calling on major freight railroads to review and update their placement of rail cars and locomotives. The configuration of railcars and how cargo gets loaded can be critical to the risk of derailment.
This is the sixth safety advisory the Department has issued since the February 3rd Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio – all part of the Department’s longstanding, ongoing work to hold railroad companies accountable to their workers and to communities across the country.
Additionally, the President’s FY 2024 Budget calls for an investment of more than $1 billion to expand USDOT’s core rail safety efforts and improve critical infrastructure:
$273.5 million to support the agency’s railroad safety personnel, expand critical inspection and audit capabilities, enhance data analysis to better identify the root causes of railroad safety incidents, and increase stakeholder outreach and partnerships to address and eliminate threats to public safety.
$760 million for both the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program and Railroad Crossing Elimination program to provide additional dedicated grant funding to improve nearly all facets of railroad safety, including upgrading track, rolling stock, and signal systems; supporting railroad employee safety training programs; and preventing railroad trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing collisions.
$59 million for a cross-cutting Research & Development program to advance new technologies and practices to improve railroad safety.
The President’s FY 2024 budget is notably different from the deeply concerning budget proposal from the House Freedom Caucus, which would cut rail safety funding, decrease rail safety inspections, and make our railways drastically less safe both for workers and communities across the country.
These announcements build on previous progress, including:
Holding Norfolk Southern Accountable: USDOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is conducting a supplemental safety assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway following multiple safety incidents. The safety assessment will exceed the scope of existing FRA audits and take an expansive look at Norfolk Southern’s overall safety culture and operations. Further, FRA is supporting the NTSB-led investigation into the cause of the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine and will hold the railroad accountable for any safety violations.
Funding Hazmat Rail First Responders: USDOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced more than $25 million available in grant funding through the Assistance for Local Emergency Response Training (ALERT) grant program. These grants will help train first responders, strengthen safety programs, improve general safety, reduce environmental impacts, and educate the public on local safety initiatives. In recent years thousands of responders nationwide have received training thanks to this program, including 2,500+ responders in 137 different locations in Ohio.
Bipartisan Legislation: The Senate proposal, endorsed by President Biden, includes provisions that Secretary Buttigieg called for in February as part of a three-part drive, such as significantly increasing fines on industry for safety violations, strengthening rules for trains carrying hazardous materials, increasing funding for hazmat training, accelerating the timeline to phase in more robust tank cars, and ensuring a two-person crew minimum on trains.
Targeted Inspections: FRA announced focused inspections, starting with targeted track inspections in and around East Palestine, on routes that carry large volumes of hazardous materials and expand nationwide.
Rail Worker Confidential Safety Reporting Program: After Secretary Buttigieg pressed them, all seven Class I freight railroads agreed to participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) program for rail employees to help prevent safety issues.
Meeting with Labor Leaders: USDOT leadership gathered leaders from unions representing tens of thousands of rail employees to hear safety concerns, both short- and long-term. USDOT's three-part approach includes a push to guarantee paid sick leave for all rail workers.
Safety Advisory for Tank Car Covers: PHMSA acted on initial findings from the NTSB investigation into the Norfolk Southern derailment and issued a safety advisory notice for tank car covers.
Safety Advisory for Emergency Response Plans: PHMSA urged all railroad operators to create and maintain emergency response plans for the transport of hazardous materials, strengthen the accessibility of the AskRail system that provides real-time information on shipments to first responders, and inform PHMSA when they identify responders who are not able to access PHMSA’s grant-funded training. The full advisory can be found here.
Safety Advisory on Tank Car Type: PHMSA released a safety advisory, pressing rail tank car owners and hazmat shippers of flammable liquids to remove their DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars and replace them with DOT-117 tank cars. The incident in East Palestine, OH, demonstrated that DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars do not perform at the highest level of survivability during derailments and fires, unlike the DOT-117 tank cars.
Safety Advisory for Hot Bearing Detectors: FRA urged railroads using hot bearing detectors (HBDs) to evaluate their inspection process, prioritize the proper training and qualification of personnel working with HBDs, and improve the safety culture of their organizations. The full advisory can be found here.
Safety Bulletin on Car Switching Hazards: FRA issued a Safety Bulletin to increase awareness of the hazards relating to switching cars. FRA is investigating a recent switching accident that resulted in a crewmember leg amputation.
Emergency Breathing Apparatus NPRM: FRA issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus to train crews and other employees when transporting certain hazardous materials.
Investments in Rail Safety: In the first year of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, FRA invested over $370M in safety improvements to physical infrastructure including nearly $190M for upgrades to tracks. Later this year, FRA will make awards for the new Railroad Crossing Elimination Program and the next round of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.
Investigators from USDOT’s FRA and PHMSA were on the ground within hours of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. The agencies are supporting the investigation being led by the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency.
New Plan To Address Bacteria in Washington State’s Whatcom Creek Watershed
Several years of study and water quality monitoring show fecal coliform bacteria, and E. coli (Escherichia coli), are polluting the Whatcom Creek watershed in Washington State. Both bacteria are commonly found in animal or human digestive tracts and feces.
Whatcom Creek is a popular place for recreation, which could pose human health risks for those who come in contact with the contaminated water. These bacteria can make people sick and cause the closure of shellfish harvesting beds.
Where is this fecal pollution coming from?
The main sources of pollution are entering the watershed through improperly functioning stormwater systems and septic systems. Other contributors include wildlife, livestock, and pet waste.
Addressing pollution in Whatcom Creek
There is a draft water quality improvement plan — also known as a TMDL for Total Maximium Daily Load — a science-based water cleanup plan that identifies the main sources of bacterial pollution and determines what needs to change to reduce or eliminate it.
- Ensuring proper operations and maintenance of storm-sewer systems and septic systems.
- Connecting to the municipal sewer system.
- Addressing pet waste and public recreational waste prevention efforts.
- Whatcom Creek watershed MAP
- Whatcom Creek watershed has multiple tributaries listed as polluted for bacteria
The lower reaches of Whatcom Creek do not meet the state’s water quality standards, while the upper reaches likely do. The smaller streams within the Whatcom Creek watershed have high levels of bacteria. The greatest bacteria pollution reductions are needed in Fever Creek, followed by Lincoln, Hanna, and Cemetery creeks. These tributaries feed into Whatcom Creek, which requires comparatively less pollution reduction. By addressing the smaller streams as a priority, Washington State hopes to avoid spreading further contamination to the larger bodies of water.
Seeking feedback on a draft plan.
To implement the Whatcom Creek bacteria TMDL and others nearby, Washington State will work with local stakeholders in partnership with other state agencies. The draft Whatcom Creek bacteria TMDL is available for review. This draft water quality improvement report and plan address high bacteria levels in the watershed. Once finalized and implemented, this plan should ensure safe conditions for swimming and other recreational activities.
The draft report is available for review and comment from March 30, 2023, until 11:59 p.m. on April 30, 2023.
What can you do to prevent pollution?
Although stormwater can carry residential and pet waste pollution, there are ways that individual people can help prevent harmful bacteria from polluting the water.
Clean up pet waste and throw it in the trash.
Perform regular septic system inspection and maintenance to prevent problems before they occur.
Follow best practices for managing livestock manure, so it doesn’t come into contact with surface water.
'Danger Vu': Federal Inspection Again Finds Dollar General Exits, Walkways Blocked, Boxes Stacked Unsafely, Workers at Risk in Texas and Wisconsin
At Dollar General stores near Houston and Green Bay, federal workplace safety inspectors found exit routes and walkways blocked — unsafe conditions that make safe and quick emergency evacuation difficult or impossible — that have become common discoveries for years at stores operated by one of the nation's largest discount retailers.
These hazards and the proposed penalties assessed after these inspections now have the Tennessee-based, Dollar General Corp. and Dolgencorp LLC facing more than $16 million in fines since 2017 after nearly 200 inspections.
In Waller, Texas, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an inspection in October 2022 and discovered blocked exits and walkways, workers at risk of being struck by falling boxes, and boxes blocking electrical panels. OSHA issued Dollar General Corp. a citation for three safety repeat violations and proposed $294,657 in penalties for these failures.
"Once again, federal workplace safety inspectors have found Dollar General ignoring required safety measures and allowing blocked emergency exits and walkways that endanger everyone who works and shops at stores where these violations exist," explained OSHA Regional Administrator Eric S. Harbin in Dallas. "Seconds lost trying to move boxes to reach a fire extinguisher or get out a safety exit can be the difference between life and death in an emergency. Allowing unsafe conditions like these to exist is a tragedy waiting to happen."
In Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, in December 2022, OSHA inspectors found stacks of merchandise and rolling containers blocking many exit routes, including a storeroom emergency exit. In addition to boxes in storage in danger of falling on employees, inspectors identified electrical hazards caused by unsafe electrical boxes, and cords and cables used improperly. OSHA issued a citation for three repeated safety violations to the store's operator, DolGen Midwest LLC — a company subsidiary — and proposed penalties of $257,829.
"Dollar General continues to put profits before the safety and well-being of store employees despite fines of more than $16 million since 2017 and violations at more than 180 locations," said OSHA Area Director Robert Bonack in Appleton, Wisconsin. "Despite reporting billions in profits in 2022, Dollar General has not used its vast resources to make the kinds of companywide changes needed to provide a safe workplace."
In 2022, OSHA added the company to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have committed willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations and demonstrated indifference to their legal obligations to provide a safe workplace.
Based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, Dollar General Corp. and Dolgencorp LLC operate more than 19,000 stores in 47 states and 17 distribution centers and employ more than 170,000 workers. The company reported $37.8 billion in sales and $3.3 billion in operating profit in fiscal year 2022.
Dollar General 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.
Biden-Harris Administration Selects WE ACT To Serve as New Technical Assistance Center To Help Communities Across Region 2 Access Historic Investments To Advance Environmental Justice
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT for Environmental Justice) has been selected to serve as an Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (EJ TCTACs) that will receive about $10 million over the next five years to help communities across the Region access funds from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. This includes historic investments to advance environmental justice.
From day one of his administration, President Biden made achieving environmental justice a top priority. Through the Investing in America agenda, the Biden-Harris Administration will continue to support and strengthen communities that for too long were left out and left behind.
“We know that so many communities across the nation have the solutions to the environmental challenges they face. Unfortunately, many have lacked access or faced barriers when it comes to the crucial federal resources needed to deliver these solutions,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Today we’re taking another step to break down these barriers. Establishing these Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers across the nation will ensure all communities can access benefits from the President’s historic agenda, which includes groundbreaking investments in clean air, clean water, and our clean energy future.”
“For far too long, overburdened, underserved, and rural communities have lacked the resources and technical assistance they need from the federal government to overcome barriers critical to their energy needs and create new, long-lasting economic opportunities,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, DOE now has historic levels of new funding to pull from to help revitalize disadvantaged communities across the nation and ensure they’re not left behind in our transition to a clean energy future.”
"This program is a game changer. It ensures that communities will get the support and assistance needed to apply for funding from different federal programs," said Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. "This grant funding allows WE ACT to provide essential support and resources to help communities access federal funding opportunities and address their environmental and public health challenges."
“We would like to thank Administrator Michael Regan and Regional Administrator Lisa Garcia for this opportunity to help environmental justice communities throughout the region gain access to the funds and other resources needed to address the legacy of environmental racism and disinvestment that has burdened them with environmental health inequities,” said Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “We have assembled a strong team of partners, including the Clean Energy Group, Columbia University Climate School, Environmental Protection Network, Inter American University, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, New York University School of Law Institute for Policy Integrity, and South Ward Environmental Alliance, and we look forward to launching our Technical Assistance Center in the coming months."
WE ACT 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.
EPA will deliver these resources in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, whose funding allows the EJ TCTACs to provide support for identifying community opportunities for clean energy transition and financing options, including public-private partnerships supporting clean energy demonstration, deployment, workforce development and outreach opportunities that advance energy justice objectives.
The formation of the EJ technical assistance centers is in direct response to feedback from communities and environmental justice leaders who have long called for technical assistance and capacity building support for communities and their partners as they work to access critical federal resources. The 17 centers will provide comprehensive coverage for the entire United States through a network of over 160 partners including community-based organizations, additional academic institutions, and Environmental Finance Centers, so that more communities can access federal funding opportunities like those made available through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
EPA has selected three national EJ TCTACs that will provide additional assistance across the country, with particular capacity to assist Tribes, including:
- International City/County Management Association
- Institute for Sustainable Communities
- National Indian Health Board
Additional award information for each selectee will be announced in Summer 2023.
The EJ TCTAC program is part of the Federal Interagency Thriving Communities Network and delivers on the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative to ensure that 40% of the benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities. Today’s selection will ensure communities with environmental justice concerns can access President Biden’s historic investments in America to address generational disinvestment, legacy pollution, infrastructure challenges, and build a clean energy economy that will lower energy costs, strengthen our energy security, and meet our climate goals.
Today’s announcement builds on the $100 million announced earlier this year under the Environmental Justice Government to Government Program and the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program, with applications due on April 14, 2023. EPA has also announced $550 million through the Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking Program, with applications due May 31, 2023.
EPA Takes Important Step To Advance PFAS Strategic Roadmap, Requests Public Input and Data To Inform Potential Future Regulations under CERCLA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) asking the public for input regarding potential future hazardous substance designations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.”
“Today’s announcement highlights EPA’s commitment to transparency and the use of the best available science to tackle PFAS pollution and protect people from exposure to these forever chemicals,” said Barry N. Breen, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. “This is a key commitment under the Agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap and will provide an opportunity for a large and diverse group of stakeholders, including the public, state and local governments, Tribes, industry, businesses, environmental groups, and universities, to provide input and help EPA gather the latest science and information regarding PFAS.”
This request for input and information follows EPA’s September 2022 proposed rule to designate two PFAS — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and their salts and structural isomers — as hazardous substances under CERCLA. EPA is currently reviewing comments received on this proposed rule.
Through this ANPRM, EPA is seeking input on whether to propose to designate additional PFAS, including HFPO-DA, sometimes called GenX, and compounds that degrade in the environment by processes such as biodegradation, photolysis, and hydrolysis, to form certain PFAS. EPA is also seeking information on whether some PFAS compounds can or should be designated as a group or category.
PFAS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time and evidence from laboratory animal and human epidemiology studies indicates that exposure to these compounds may lead to cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects. Many known and potential sources of PFAS contamination are near communities already overburdened with pollution.
A Federal Register Notice has been published in the Federal Register at docket EPA-HQ-OLEM-2022-0922 and can be viewed on www.regulations.gov. The ANPRM will be open for a 60-day comment period through June 12, 2023.
EPA intends to carefully review all the comments and information received in response to this ANPRM.
An agency may publish an ANPRM in the Federal Register to seek input and obtain more information. If EPA decides to move forward with designating additional PFAS compounds as hazardous substances under CERCLA, the agency will publish a proposed rule and seek public comment.
EPA is not reopening or otherwise proposing to modify any existing regulations through this ANPRM.
Under the Roadmap, EPA is working across its programs and with its federal partners across the Biden-Harris Administration to develop solutions to the PFAS crisis and protect public health.
US Department of Labor, State Agencies, Industry Leaders Launch Campaign To Educate, Alert Midwest Employers, Workers of Deadly Excavation Hazards
Thirty-nine people died doing trench or excavation work in the U.S. in 2022 – four in Illinois and two others in Ohio. In fact, the number of worker fatalities more than doubled since 2021, continuing a troubling trend cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that found 166 workers died in trench cave-ins from 2011-2018, an average of 21 each year.
To address injuries and fatalities in the industry, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is launching an outreach campaign in its Midwest region today to work directly with employers, workers, state agencies and industry associations to reduce and prevent serious injuries and fatalities suffered by workers in one of the nation's most hazardous industries.
"A trench collapse can bury workers under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in seconds, making escape and survival often impossible," explained OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago. "With proper training and use of required safety procedures, incidents like these can be prevented. OSHA and industry employers are working hard to raise awareness of hazards and protective measures and educate employers on how they must protect workers."
The new campaign is a collaboration between OSHA and on-site consultation projects across OSHA Region 5 including: Illinois On-site Consultation Program, Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration and INSafe: Safety and Health Consultation; Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Michigan Consultative Services; Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Minnesota Workplace Safety Consultation Program; Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation On-Site Consultation Program; Wisconsin On-Site Consultation Program, as well as trenching and excavation industry employers and other stakeholders such as the National Utility Contractors Association, Wisconsin Utility Contractors Association.
"By launching this trench and excavation safety campaign as the spring construction season gets into full swing, OSHA and its partners are determined to make sure industry workers finish their daily shifts safely," Donovan added.
In 2022, OSHA conducted 311 trenching and excavation inspections at sites in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. Six of the inspections followed incidents in which workers suffered fatalities after falling into a trench, being pinned between equipment, trapped by a cave-in or asphyxiated by naturally occurring, hazardous gases in the trench.
Industry employers and workers should remember the following essential trench safety standards:
Protective systems must be in place for trenches 5-feet deep or deeper. These systems include benching, sloping, shoring and shielding.
A registered professional engineer must approve trenches of 20-feet deep or deeper.
A competent person must inspect trenches daily – and as conditions change – before anyone enters a trench. The competent person must be able to identify existing and predictable hazards, soil types and protective systems, and have authority to take prompt corrective action to eliminate those hazards.
Excavated soils must be kept at least two feet from trench edges.
Underground utilities must be located and marked before digging begins.
Ladders must be positioned every 25 feet of lateral travel for safe entrance and exit from the trench.
OSHA has a national emphasis program on preventing trenching and excavation collapses, and developed a series of compliance assistance resources in English and Spanish to help keep workers safe from these hazards.
OSHA's trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions. including a safety video and safety alert.
OSHA participates in the National Utility Contractors Association Trench Safety Month each June.
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