July 06, 2021
OSHA issued a compliance directive
designed to ensure uniform inspection and enforcement procedures for its Emergency Temporary Standard to protect healthcare workers from occupational exposures to COVID-19.
The new directive provides OSHA compliance safety and health officers with guidance and procedures on how to enforce the standard's requirements for:
- Written COVID-19 plan
- Patient/Non-employee screening and management
- Personal protective equipment
- Aerosol-generating procedures
- Physical distancing
- Physical barriers
- Cleaning and disinfecting
- Employee health screening and medical management
- Requirements at no cost
- Reporting to OSHA
The ETS became effective June 21, 2021. Employers must comply with most provisions by July 6, 2021, and with training, ventilation, and barrier provisions by July 21, 2021.
Stay Safe in Hot Weather
Oregon OSHA reminded employers and employees to take precautions when temperatures and humidity rise this summer. Workers may be susceptible to heat exhaustion, which could progress to heat stroke and possibly even death if not treated promptly.
Employers can be proactive and protect their workers from heat exhaustion by encouraging them to do the following:
- Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
- Slowly build up tolerance to the heat and the work activity (this usually takes up to two weeks).
- Use the buddy system to monitor the heat (work in pairs).
- Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15-20 minutes).
- Wear light, loose fitting, breathable clothing (such as cotton).
- Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas - allow your body to cool down.
- Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
- Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these beverages make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
Cal-OSHA also listed recommendations to prevent heat illness:
- Plan – Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
- Training – Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention.
- Water – Provide drinking water that is fresh, pure, suitably cool and free of charge so that each worker can drink at least 1 quart per hour and encourage workers to do so.
- Rest – Encourage workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
- Shade – Provide proper shade when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Workers have the right to request and be provided shade to cool off at any time.
If heat exhaustion does occur, it is important to treat the worker immediately. Employers and co-workers should learn to recognize signs of heat exhaustion, which can include extreme fatigue, nausea, light-headedness or headache, clammy and moist skin, a pale complexion, and a normal or only slightly elevated body temperature. The following steps can help workers suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Move them to a cool, shaded area. Don't leave them alone. If they are dizzy or light-headed, lay them on their back and raise their legs about 6-8 inches at the feet. If they are sick to their stomach, lay them on their side.
- Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
- Give them some cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
- Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
- If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call for emergency help (911).
For more information about work-related heat stress, go to:
New EPA Approach to TSCA Chemical Risk Evaluations
EPA announced policy changes
surrounding risk evaluations issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by the previous administration and the path forward for the first 10 chemicals to undergo risk evaluation. After agency review to ensure these risk evaluations follow science and the law, EPA announced actions to ensure these chemicals are used safely and all communities are protected. This review was done in accordance with the Biden-Harris Administration’s Executive Orders and other directives, including those on environmental justice, scientific integrity, and regulatory review.
“EPA is committed to ensuring the safety of chemicals used in all communities, including those that have been historically underserved,” said EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Assistant Administrator Michal Freedhoff. “The policy changes and path forward announced today will allow the agency to restore public trust, provide regulatory certainty, and most importantly, ensure that all populations that may be exposed to these chemicals are protected.”
TSCA requires EPA to review the risks associated with high-priority chemicals already on the market, then take action to manage any unreasonable risks found. The announcement includes the following changes and will position EPA to move forward with actions to ensure the public is protected from unreasonable risks from chemicals in a way that is supported by science and the law.
Under the previous administration, the first 10 risk evaluations did not assess air, water or disposal exposures to the general population because these exposure pathways were already regulated, or could be regulated, under other EPA-administered statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, or Clean Water Act. The approach to exclude certain exposure pathways also resulted in a failure to consistently and comprehensively address potential exposures to potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations, including fenceline communities (i.e., communities near industrial facilities).
In the original risk evaluation for 1,4-dioxane – and in a supplemental assessment – EPA did not evaluate certain exposure pathways or populations that could be considered potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations. Thus, EPA currently intends to re-open and update the 1,4-dioxane risk evaluation to consider whether to include additional exposure pathways, like drinking water and ambient air, and conditions of use where 1,4-dioxane is generated as a byproduct that were excluded from the supplemental and final risk evaluations. The agency plans to take public comment on any potential revisions to the 1,4-dioxane risk evaluation before finalizing them.
For six of the first 10 chemicals, EPA plans to further examine whether the policy decision to exclude certain exposure pathways from the risk evaluations will lead to a failure to identify and protect fenceline communities. These six chemicals are methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, carbon tetrachloride, perchloroethylene, NMP, and 1-bromopropane.
To determine if these six chemicals do present unreasonable risks to these communities, EPA is developing a screening-level approach to conduct ambient air and surface water fenceline assessments. This approach will use existing data and information to determine if there is the potential for unreasonable risk to fenceline communities associated with air and water exposures.
If this approach yields information that there is no unreasonable risk to these communities, EPA intends to move forward to proposed risk management rulemakings. Alternatively, if the agency finds through the application of the screening-level approach that there may be unreasonable risk to these communities that cannot be addressed without supplementing the risk evaluation or through the risk management approaches the agency is already considering, EPA will conduct a more comprehensive exposure assessment of fenceline communities and supplement the risk evaluation for that chemical with the new information.
Later this calendar year, EPA plans to make these screening approaches and methods, and their application to one or more chemicals, available for public comment and have them peer reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals.
In the final risk evaluations for the first 10 chemicals, the previous administration generally assumed that workers were always provided, and used, personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriately. However, data on violations of PPE use suggest that assumptions that PPE is always provided to workers, and worn properly, are not justified. Continued use of this assumption could result in risk evaluations that underestimate the risk, and in turn, risk management rules may not provide the needed protections.
EPA is therefore revisiting the assumption that PPE is always used in occupational settings when making risk determinations for a chemical. Instead, the agency plans to consider information on use of PPE, or other ways industry protects its workers, as a potential way to address unreasonable risk during the risk management process.
The first 10 risk evaluations already include exposure analysis with and without PPE. Therefore, removing this assumption does not create need for new analysis. However, this shift could change some of the conclusions about risk on some conditions of use for six of the first 10 chemicals for which “no unreasonable risk” findings were made based on the use of PPE. Specifically, this shift could impact conclusions about risk for some conditions of use for methylene chloride, 1-bromopropane, HBCD, NMP, perchloroethylene, and 1,4-dioxane.
EPA has reviewed the risk evaluations issued for HBCD, PV29, and asbestos (part 1: chrysotile asbestos). EPA currently believes the risk evaluations are likely sufficient to inform the risk management approaches being considered and these approaches will be protective. Moving forward, EPA intends to reissue the risk determinations that amend the approach to PPE and include a whole chemical risk determination for these three chemicals. The agency is also working expeditiously on risk management, and believes the proposed rules for these three chemicals will likely be the first of the 10 to be ready for release.
Under the previous administration, EPA made separate unreasonable risk determinations for every condition of use of a chemical. For the first 10 chemicals under TSCA and for any similar chemical that presents significant risks across many uses, EPA will continue to assess and analyze each condition of use, but then the agency plans to make the determination of unreasonable risk just once for the whole chemical when it is clear the majority of the conditions of use warrant one determination. EPA intends to withdraw the previously issued orders for those conditions of use for which no unreasonable risk was found for all the first 10 risk evaluations. The agency then intends to issue revised unreasonable risk determinations for these chemicals as a “whole substance” and seek public comment on this approach.
State and Local Governments Support New EPA Program to Phase Down Climate Super-Pollutants
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh joined a coalition of 14 attorneys general, 2 state agencies, and the City of New York in supporting the EPA’s proposal to establish a cap-and-trade program to phase down production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as required by Congress under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act). HFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change and endanger public health.
HFCs are climate “super-pollutants” that are commonly used as a substitute for ozone-depleting substances in millions of consumer products from refrigerators and air conditioning units to cosmetics, spray cans, and household cleaners. They are among the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas pollution globally, with hundreds to thousands of times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide. EPA sought to phase out and regulate HFCs beginning in 2014, but HFC manufacturers and the Trump administration attempted to all but eliminate federal HFC regulation, increasing HFC emissions and creating significant uncertainty for chemical manufacturers and consumers. However, on December 27, 2020, Congress enacted the AIM Act with bipartisan support, directing EPA to reduce HFC pollution by, among other things, establishing a cap-and-trade program to phase out both production and consumption of 18 HFC substances by 85% by 2036.
“The EPA’s proposed program will help protect public health and the environment from the significant threats posed by HFC pollution,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Dangerous wildfires, unprecedented temperature highs, and warming of our ocean waters is clear evidence that we must take more forceful action to address climate change. The EPA should immediately implement this program.”
The coalition asserts that EPA’s proposed trading program faithfully implements the AIM Act to phase down HFC production and consumption throughout the nation, reversing an unlawful and misguided trend toward loosening restrictions on harmful HFC pollution under the previous administration. The coalition also notes that states like Maryland have been at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis, including through state regulations to reduce HFC production and consumption, and urges EPA to quickly finalize and begin implementing this critical program to mandate similar reductions across the country.
In addition, the coalition emphasizes that “Environmental Justice communities and Native American tribal communities in our States and across the country are already experiencing the most damaging effects of a changing climate.” The coalition urges EPA, in finalizing its cap- and-trade program, to identify and minimize any potential harms to environmental justice communities, including Black and Latinx populations and low-income populations, as well as Native American tribal communities, which are already overburdened by other pollution and other environmental harms and health hazards.
In June 2018, a lawsuit was filed against the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for rescinding regulations prohibiting the use of HFCs through guidance, rather than a public rulemaking process, as required by federal law. In April 2020, the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the coalition and reversed EPA’s unlawful action. In July 2018, Attorney General Frosh joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in urging the U.S Supreme Court to review a D.C. Circuit decision holding that EPA can no longer ban all uses of HFCs and other dangerous substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals.
Joining Attorney General Frosh in filing the comments are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont; the California Air Resources Board and the Maryland Department of the Environment; and the City of New York.
Safety Kleen Systems, Inc. Cited for Hazardous Waste Permit Violations
EPA announced a settlement with Safety Kleen Systems, Inc. to resolve alleged violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at the company’s facility in Dolton, Illinois. The settlement includes a $350,000 civil penalty.
“EPA is committed to protecting all communities by enforcing companies’ obligations to properly manage solid and hazardous waste,” said EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Cheryl Newton. “This settlement with Safety Kleen reflects EPA’s commitment to protect human health and the environment by ensuring compliance with state and federal environmental laws and advancing environmental justice.”
Safety-Kleen’s Dolton facility is a RCRA-permitted organic chemical and solvent reclamation and recycling facility that regenerates spent solvent and blends hazardous waste into fuel. EPA alleged that Safety-Kleen violated RCRA by treating hazardous waste in thin-film evaporators that were not authorized in Safety-Kleen’s RCRA permit to treat hazardous waste. Maintaining permit coverage to correctly treat hazardous waste ensures that hazardous waste is controlled from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal. EPA also alleged that Safety-Kleen violated several conditions of its RCRA permit and federally authorized Illinois RCRA regulations. RCRA is the nation’s primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, which helps protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards.
Under the terms of the Consent Agreement and Final Order with EPA, Safety-Kleen has addressed the alleged RCRA violations at the Dolton facility and will pay a civil penalty of $350,000. The Dolton facility is located in a community with environmental justice concerns. Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
DOT to Fund Innovative Ideas for Shipment of Hazardous Materials
The Department of Transportation Office of Hazardous Materials Safety (OHMS) of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is soliciting concepts which could eventually lead to contract awards. PHMSA is looking for innovative ideas for leading-edge research and innovative techniques to advance the safe transportation of hazardous materials (HM). The Department issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) 35.016 and 6.102(d)(2).
Research topics of interest include:
- Hazard comparison of aerosols
- De minimis quantities of explosives
- Understanding the hazards posed by dissolved gases in liquids
- Deregulation of certain types and quantities of hazardous materials
More information on research topics and deadlines can be found here
House Committee Advances Legislation to Fund EPA, Interior
The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations advanced legislation to the full House that would increase funding to the EPA by 23% and would make key investments in Interior Department programs.
Features of the bill include:
- $150 million for The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program to support grants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve local air quality by getting rid of harmful diesel emissions, which is particularly harmful to communities located along ports, highways, and freight corridors. (EPA)
- $320 million for state and local air quality management to accelerate the deployment of air monitoring equipment, especially in overburdened communities, and to enhance ongoing efforts at the state level to address emissions of carbon pollution. (EPA)
- $271 million for enforcement of environmental laws under the jurisdiction of the EPA. Protecting public health and communities overburdened by pollution through vigorous enforcement is essential to preventing new and cleaning up legacy pollution. (EPA)
- $120 million for the Energy Community Revitalization Program (ECRP) to begin cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines and orphaned oil and gas wells on federal, state, and tribal lands. Cleaning up hardrock mines and orphaned wells will require a much greater funding investment (the EPA estimates a $50 billion dollar clean up backlog for hardrock mines, and there are over 57,000 documented orphan wells on state lands -plus more than 14,000 on federal lands, and likely thousands more that have not yet been formally documented), but this funding is an important step. (DOI)
- Protects special places, including The Boundary Waters wilderness in Northern Minnesota, which would be protected from a proposed copper sulfide mine, and the Tongass National Forest, where millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies for logging by the timber industry would be stopped. (Forest Service)
- In report language, asks DOI to strengthen financial assurances and bonding for offshore oil and gas production, and to also create a dedicated reclamation fee funded by the industry.
New Enzyme Breaks Down Waste for Less Expensive Biofuels, Bioproducts
In a step toward increasing the cost-effectiveness of renewable biofuels and bioproducts, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovered a microbial enzyme that degrades tough-to-break bonds in lignin, a waste product of biorefineries.
When inserted into a bioengineered bacterium, the enzyme helps efficiently convert lignin compounds into a common component of plastics, opening a pathway to transform waste into a commercially valuable biochemical.
“Lignin is a really complicated polymer,” said Josh Michener, who led ORNL’s research as detailed in Metabolic Engineering
. The polymer, which contributes to the structural rigidity of plants, consists of useful monomer units held together by weak and strong bonds. With lignin comprising 20% to 30% of plant biomass by weight, breaking the polymer’s strong bonds and converting the chemicals they link together into value-added products is necessary to make the production of plant-based biofuels and products economically viable.
Diverse communities of bacteria and fungi perform these processes in nature, but maintaining a mix of so many different microbes in one bioreactor can be tricky. To solve this problem, ORNL scientists in the Center for Bioenergy Innovation, or CBI, want to identify the enzymes that microbes use to degrade specific bonds in lignin and engineer the genes that code for those enzymes into a single organism.
Working toward this goal, ORNL researchers targeted a particularly stubborn bond linking two carbon molecules in a lignin dimer – a unit of two joined monomers – called 1,2-diguaiacylpropane-1,3-diol, or DGPD.
The team used the bacterium Novosphingobium aromaticivorans, a microbe of interest in lignin valorization. After identifying and cultivating a mutant N. aromaticivorans strain that efficiently degraded the desired linkage in DGPD, the researchers used bacterial genetics and gene disruption techniques to find which enzyme was responsible.
To their surprise, the enzyme they identified – which they named LsdE – had been labeled as a hypothetical protein, meaning its function was unknown.
“No one had seen this kind of chemistry before,” Michener said. “There weren't any examples in the literature of a single enzyme that could do this particular transformation.”
The discovery was made possible by the ORNL team’s genome-scale approach. Biology techniques frequently rely on homology, a method of examining enzymes that appear similar to those with known functions. However, Michener noted, “When we're looking for a hypothetical protein that's never been described, we can't find it by homology.”
Instead, the team used genetic techniques that allowed them to find leads by looking broadly across the N. aromaticivorans genome. They then constructed a set of mutant microbes, each with a single gene disrupted. Collectively, every nonessential gene was disrupted in at least one of these mutants.
If the mutant microbe lost its ability to break down the DGPD dimer when a certain gene was removed, the researchers could determine that the enzyme encoded by that gene was responsible for the degradation, without needing to know its function beforehand.
“In this case, there was no reason we'd ever look at LsdE and say obviously this enzyme does that reaction,” Michener said. “That was one of the most exciting parts – and the fact that we have methods in place to make those kinds of discoveries.”
After identifying LsdE, the ORNL team tested to see if they could further validate its function. Their test confirmed the role of LsdE and revealed that a better-known enzyme, LsdA, played a complementary role in further breaking down DGPD into useful compounds.
At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a project partner in CBI, scientists inserted both enzymes into a strain of the bacterium Pseudomonas putida that had already been engineered to produce muconic acid, a value-added precursor for plastics. They found that adding the enzymes enabled P. putida to convert DGPD into muconic acid at a nearly 100% yield.
“With many products, you’re losing carbon along the way,” said Allison Werner, a postdoctoral researcher at NREL and co-author on the study. “But in this case, we have a very efficient pathway.”
“To the best of our analytical capabilities, every molecule of the dimer that we started with was converted into two molecules of the product, which is pretty phenomenal,” Michener said.
This work is part of a larger effort to convert lignin into value-added products. Future research will aim to discover new enzymes that break down other tough linkages and to better understand the chemical structure of LsdE.
Co-authors on the study include Gerald Presley and Richard Giannone of ORNL; David Garcia of the University of Tennessee; and Rui Katahira, Stefan Haugen, Kelsey Ramirez and Gregg Beckham of NREL.
The research began under DOE’s BioEnergy Science Center and continued under the Center for Bioenergy Innovation, supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE’s Office of Science. This study and continued research are funded in part by a DOE Early Career Award granted to Josh Michener for the proposal “Systems Metabolic Engineering of Novosphingobium aromaticivorans for Lignin Valorization.” DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office also contributed to work conducted at NREL.
After Lithium Battery Fire, Illinois EPA Refers Superior Battery, Inc. to Attorney General
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General's Office against Superior Battery Inc., located at 919 East Benton Street, Morris (Grundy County). The referral cites violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Pollution Control Board Regulations related to the release or potential release of pollutants to the atmosphere and water, and to improper waste handling.
On June 29, 2021, a fire broke out at the building owned and operated by Superior Battery Inc. Initial reports to the Morris Fire Department indicated the building contained approximately 180,000 to 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries. The fire produced smoke containing potentially dangerous substances. The smoke plume prompted an evacuation order by local authorities of a one-square mile radius around the facility, affecting approximately 1,000 homes. Personnel from multiple federal, state, and local agencies and organizations are responding to the fire.
In the referral, Illinois EPA alleges Superior Battery Inc. has caused, threatened, or allowed the discharging of contaminants to the air and water, and disposed or abandoned waste at an unregulated facility. Additional violations may be added as the Agency gathers more information about the fire and Superior Battery Inc.'s management of the lithium batteries.
The referral asks the Attorney General to pursue legal action and require Superior Battery Inc. to take a number of actions, including obtain a consultant to determine the cause of the fire; cease and/or prevent releases from the site; contain any runoff and prevent any off-site discharge of water; provide a detailed inventory of site materials and a description of the processes performed at the site; identify any waste streams generated at the site; provide an estimate of air contaminants emitted as a result of the fire; develop and implement plans to properly remove and dispose of wases from the site; retain an environmental contractor to perform on- and off-site investigation and remediation; and establish procedures to prevent future reoccurrences.
Ace Hardware Fined for Diesel Spill to Snoqualmie River
The Washington Department of Ecology fined Ace Hardware $28,000 for a January 2020 spill to the Snoqualmie River. $3,000 of the penalty is for polluting state waters, and $25,000 is for negligence.
On Wednesday, January 15, 2020, an Ace Hardware Corporation semi-truck was heading westbound on Interstate 90 from Yakima. Due to snow and ice conditions, the posted speed limit was 45 mph, and chains were required. The driver was traveling at 64.5 mph without chains. The truck and trailer slid off the road and wrecked. The fuel tank ruptured and about 120 gallons of diesel spilled to the nearby ditch, stormwater system, and south fork of the Snoqualmie River. The driver was cited by State Patrol for not chaining up.
Diesel contains carcinogenic compounds, is acutely toxic and can persist in the environment. When spilled, it can coat wildlife, impairing fish, birds and other creatures quickly.
“Travel advisories are not just for safety; they also prevent spills. We encourage all drivers to adhere to warnings to prevent accidents, injuries, and damage to our environment,” said Dale Jensen, Ecology’s Spills Program manager. “If this driver had taken the proper precautions, diesel would not have entered the Snoqualmie river.”
Ace Hardware has 30 days to appeal the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Seven Construction Companies Fined for Stormwater Violations in Massachusetts
EPA has reached settlements with seven Massachusetts construction companies for violations of stormwater regulations that serve to reduce pollution from construction runoff. Under these settlements, the seven companies agreed to pay penalties for their noncompliance and, where applicable, obtain permit coverage and follow the terms of their permits for discharging stormwater.
"It's imperative that developers get permit coverage and implement erosion controls to protect communities' clean water," said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deborah Szaro. "EPA is committed to working with developers so that they can be good stewards for the benefit of the local communities they serve and for New England's coastal waters."
All construction sites one acre or larger, with the potential to discharge stormwater to surface waters, are required to obtain coverage under EPA's General Permit for Discharges from Construction Activities, comply with the terms of the permit, and thereby minimize sediment discharges.
The recent enforcement actions include:
- 383 Park Street, LLC agreed to pay a $9,000 penalty for allegedly failing to obtain permit coverage, maintain adequate erosion controls, and store and contain petroleum products in a manner designed to prevent discharge of pollutants at the Shay Lane construction site in North Reading, Mass.
- Dat Tieu Enterprises, LLC agreed to pay a $3,000 penalty for allegedly discharging stormwater without a permit at the Woodland Park construction site in Brockton, Mass.
- Egan Development, LLC agreed to pay a $7,200 penalty for allegedly failing to obtain permit coverage at the Heritage Park Development in Whitman, Mass.
- Harbor Classic Homes LLC agreed to pay a $4,200 penalty for allegedly failing to obtain permit coverage at the Elm Street construction site in Lunenburg, Mass.
- Mujeeb Construction Company, Inc. agreed to pay a $7,200 penalty for allegedly failing to obtain permit coverage at the Carpenter Estates Development in Northbridge, Mass.
- Otis Land Management, LLC agreed to pay an $8,700 penalty for allegedly failing to obtain permit coverage, implement adequate erosion controls, and for a turbid discharge at the Sturbridge Road Development in Charlton, Mass.
- Royal Haven Builders, Inc., based in Tyngsborough, Mass., agreed to pay a $7,800 penalty for allegedly failing to obtain permit coverage and implement adequate erosion controls at the Mayflower Landing Development in Pelham, N.H.
Dirt and sediment carried off construction sites can damage aquatic habitat, contribute to algal blooms, and physically clog streams and pipes. These settlements are the latest in a series of enforcement actions taken by EPA New England
to address stormwater violations from industrial facilities and construction sites around New England.
Penske and Six Inspectors Sued for Issuing Fraudulent Vehicle Inspection Stickers
Penske Leasing and Rental, a national truck rental company and six of its commercial vehicle inspectors have been sued for allegedly issuing passing inspection certificates to motor vehicles that underwent fraudulent safety and emissions inspections — most of which occurred at its New Bedford facility, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges Penske Leasing and Rental Company and licensed inspector employees Frank Gregory, Jeffrey Adams, Justin Travers, Aaron Milosek, Allen Russell, and Alex Martinez violated regulations under the Massachusetts Clean Air Act’s Motor Vehicle Inspection Program, the Massachusetts Inspection and Maintenance Act, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act when they failed to lawfully and completely conduct 189 safety and emissions inspections on the fleet of trucks that Penske rents and leases for commercial use.
“We allege these defendants put public safety and our clean air at risk when they falsely certified that their rental trucks had successfully completed safety and emissions inspections,” AG Healey said. “We’re grateful to our partner agencies for working with us to hold Penske and its inspectors accountable for threatening the safety of both the unsuspecting customers who leased these trucks and everyone on our roads.”
“Diesel trucks are responsible for the majority of on-road emissions of particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen,” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “It is critical these vehicles are inspected properly to ensure their emission control components are working as designed.”
“The Registry of Motor Vehicles appreciates the efforts of the Attorney General’s Office and MassDEP in investigating and pursuing this case of alleged wrongdoing in issuing passing inspection certificates to motor vehicles that underwent fraudulent safety and emissions inspections,” said Acting RMV Registrar Colleen Ogilvie. “Uninspected vehicles can pose a safety hazard to the vehicle occupants and to the general public. It is vital that all vehicle owners and inspectors follow statutory requirements for annual vehicle inspections.”
Penske operates more than 3,200 locations nationwide. The incomplete inspections alleged in the AG’s complaint primarily took place at Penske’s facility at 1242 Shawmut Avenue in New Bedford. Penske holds a vehicle inspection station license under the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ (RMV) jointly administered Vehicle Check Program
. The Program recently began requiring vehicle inspections to be video recorded and the videos of the inspection violations in the complaint allegedly demonstrate that, among several other omissions, Penske’s inspectors repeatedly failed to inspect the condition of the trucks’ brake components, headlamps, and wheels and rims. In many instances, the inspectors allegedly never looked under the vehicle.
Specifically, the AG’s lawsuit alleges Penske inspectors failed to properly conduct 129 safety inspections and conducted at least 123 fraudulent emissions inspections of its fleet of vehicles, including heavy-duty diesel-powered trucks (weighing more than 10,000-pounds). These trucks were subject to smoke opacity testing, which measures the density of black smoke in a vehicle’s exhaust. According to the complaint, the Penske inspectors used a variety of illegal methods to falsify passing results for Penske’s trucks or evade monitoring, including failing to put the smoke reader fully into the tailpipe, using a video of a different vehicle being inspected, or conducting the test out of view of the agencies’ cameras. The inspectors then allegedly affixed stickers to the vehicles signifying that they had passed inspection, when in fact, they had not been legally inspected.
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties along with costs of investigation and litigation, including attorney’s fees. The AG’s Office is also requesting that the court permanently enjoin the defendants from conducting vehicle inspections under the Vehicle Check Program.
Diesel engines emit a toxic mix of pollutants, causing adverse health impacts, such as asthma, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, increased emergency room visits, birth defects, premature births, and other respiratory illnesses. New research
suggests that exposure to pollutants emitted from vehicle tailpipes, such as nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, increases COVID-19 mortality rates. In May 2020, AG Healey issued a brief
on the environmental factors, including elevated exposure to particulate matter pollution, that have compounded the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color in Massachusetts, and the steps the state should take to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on those communities.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Laila Atta and Jillian Riley, both of AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau, with assistance from MassDEP Senior Counsel Jennifer Davis, Julie Ross and Craig Woleader of MassDEP’s Enhanced Emissions and Safety Test Program, and Terrence Hayes of the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s Vehicle Safety & Compliance Services Department.
LDEQ’s Enviroschool to Host Webinar: Understanding Water Permitting
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (LDEQ) Enviroschool will host a webinar on Understanding Water Permitting. This session will focus on the industrial permitting process, from the water permit application submittal to the issuance of a final Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (LPDES) permit.
Louisiana’s Water Quality Regulations (LAC 33: Chapter IX) require permits for the discharge of pollutants from any point source into the waters of the state of Louisiana. This surface water discharge permitting system is administered under the Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program. LDEQ became delegated to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program in August of 1996.
The Water Permits Division, within the Office of Environmental Services, consists of two LPDES Water Permitting Sections: Industrial Water Permits and Municipal & General Water Permits. Permitting responsibilities are distributed between the two sections based on facility type. General Permits (authorized under LAC 33:IX.2515) are written to cover one or more categories or subcategories of discharges within a geographic area, which can range from a specific watershed to a broad area such as the entire state. Individual Permits are specifically written to cover a facility’s wastewater discharges that do not qualify for authorization under a general permit. This presentation will be focused on the individual industrial permitting process.
The Enviroschool program at LDEQ is the environmental education outreach arm of the agency and provides training for communities, businesses and other organizations on a number of regulatory topics. The program aims to inform attendees about the environmental regulatory process and to maintain and improve environmental compliance.
DDM Imports Fined $66K for Illegal Truck Imports
For the third time in less than two years, the EPA has settled a federal Clean Air Act case against DDM Imports of Airway Heights, Washington for illegally importing from Canada diesel pickup trucks lacking required emission controls.
In similar cases brought by the EPA in April & October 2020, DDM paid penalties totaling $67,400 for illegally importing diesel pickup trucks without required emission controls.
Under the terms of the Consent Agreement and Final Order, the company will pay $66,622 for another attempt to import illegal diesel pickup trucks.
Heavy-duty diesel pickup engines can emit large amounts of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both of which contribute to serious public health problems in the United States. These problems include premature mortality, aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, aggravation of existing asthma, acute respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, and decreased lung function. Numerous studies also link diesel exhaust to increased incidence of lung cancer.
As in the two prior cases, the case came to EPA from officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Office of Field Operations who in November 2020 inspected two Ford F-350 diesel pickup trucks at the U.S.-Canada border in Eastport, Idaho and found that the wires and connections between emissions sensors and controls and the vehicles’ onboard diagnostics systems had been cut on both trucks. In addition, emission control device catalysts had been removed from one of the trucks. The Clean Air Act requires all used vehicles imported to the U.S. be outfitted with the emission controls required at the time of their manufacture.
“This company is well aware that importers of vehicles are responsible for ensuring required pollution controls are intact,” said Ed Kowalski, director of EPA Region 10’s Enforcement and Compliance Assistance Division. “We will continue to aggressively enforce the law, and we appreciate the partnership with the Customs and Border Protection officers in ensuring compliance to protect people’s health.”
“CBP Officers are tasked with enforcing rules and regulations for over 50 different agencies to ensure dangerous goods and products are not allowed to enter the U.S.,” said CBP Area Port Director Jason Greene. “Thanks to the diligent work of CBP Officers at the Eastport, ID Port of Entry, the attempted import of illegally modified vehicles was detected and resulted in a collaborative enforcement effort with the EPA.”
for more about EPA’s regulations for onroad vehicles and engines. Other vehicle and engine enforcement actions are available here
In recognition of the substantial excess pollution caused by illegally modified vehicles and engines, EPA is implementing a National Compliance Initiative entitled Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices for Vehicles and Engines. In furtherance of this initiative, EPA will continue to vigorously pursue enforcement against those who violate the defeat device and tampering prohibitions of the Clean Air Act. In addition, EPA has and will continue to prosecute criminal activity related to the illegal sale and installation of defeat devices.
Phillips 66 Cited for Sulfur Dioxide Emissions
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced a lawsuit and an agreed interim order with Phillips 66 that ensures the company will take action to protect residents from sulfur dioxide emissions caused by contaminated sulfuric acid from Phillips 66’s refinery in Roxana, Illinois. Raoul filed the lawsuit against Phillips 66 following releases of sulfur dioxide from four railroad tank cars containing contaminated sulfuric acid near the Illinois towns of Hartford and Wood River. As of June 9, the cars were resealed and returned to Phillips 66’s refinery.
The interim order requires Phillips 66 to take immediate action to conduct a root cause analysis of the events causing the releases, submit the report to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for review and approval, and establish procedures to prevent similar incidents in the future. Phillips 66 must also submit to the IEPA all air monitoring data, remove and dispose of the venting tank cars and their remaining contents, and monitor other tank cars loaded during the same time period for similar emissions.
“This order will protect residents of Roxana and Wood River from harmful sulfur dioxide emissions and ensure that Phillips 66 takes responsibility for allowing this harmful gas to be released into the atmosphere,” Raoul said. “I am committed to continuing to work to hold Phillips 66 accountable for jeopardizing public health and the environment.”
Raoul’s lawsuit is based on a referral from the IEPA.
“This incident resulted in the release of unknown amounts of sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, placing an undue threat on local residents and businesses,” IEPA Director John Kim said. “The Interim Order will ensure Phillips 66 provides all relevant information related to the incident and prevents such an event from occurring in the future.”
Phillips 66 operates a petroleum refinery in Roxana, Illinois. Between May 24 and May 25, four railroad tank cars leased by Phillips 66 were loaded with contaminated sulfuric acid. On June 2, those tank cars were loaded onto a train at a Norfolk Southern Railway transfer station. Later that day, a pressure relief valve on one of the tank cars activated and sulfur dioxide began venting to the atmosphere near the towns of Hartford and Wood River. A railway employee conducting a safety inspection was injured by the release. Representatives of Norfolk Southern Railway were unable to seal the venting tank car, and two other tank cars later began venting sulfur dioxide as well. The next morning, a fourth rail car began releasing sulfur dioxide, and a shelter in place order was issued for residents in the nearby towns of Roxana and Wood River. At least four other railcars containing contaminated sulfuric acid loaded between May 24 and May 25 were transported to Delaware, where they were vented under controlled conditions.
In the lawsuit, Raoul argued that the loading of contaminated sulfuric acid into Phillip 66’s tank cars poses a substantial danger to the environment and to the public health and welfare of residents in the area. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.
Assistant Attorneys General Kevin Bonin and Brian Navarrete are handling the case for Raoul’s Environmental Enforcement Division.
Crimson Pipeline Fined Over $300K for Oil Spill
Crimson Pipeline has agreed to pay a $330,218 penalty for the 2016 unauthorized release of 45,150 gallons of crude oil into a nearby Ventura County creek that harmed wildlife and posed a significant threat to human health and pets.
In a settlement approved June 29 by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, Crimson Pipeline will deposit the fine in the Waste Discharge Permit Fund within 30 days. The spill occurred in the foothills of Hall Canyon north of the city of Ventura. The Prince Barranca is a creek adjacent to the site that flows into the Pacific Ocean about 1.5 miles away.
An investigation by the regional water board determined the incident was caused by a breached pipeline vault box owned and operated by Crimson Pipeline. Crude oil flowed into the creek and killed or harmed several animals before it was contained approximately 1,850 feet downstream. Based on a 2016 report from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, 11 animal carcasses were retrieved, seven of which were oiled. In addition, four oiled birds were placed in wildlife recovery facilities and later released.
“I'm very pleased we reached a settlement with Crimson Pipeline regarding the environmental damage,” said Lawrence Yee, chair of the Los Angeles Water Board. “When we protect the environment, we protect ourselves. And we will continue to monitor the site to mitigate any further harm.”
West Central Agri Services Faces $215K in OSHA Fines for Safety Violations
Had MFA Enterprises Inc. – operating as West Central Agri Services – addressed potential dust ignition sources, an explosion that seriously injured an employee and caused the destruction of the main elevator at an Adrian grain loading facility might not have happened. OSHA cited the grain-handling facility for one willful and six serious safety violations, and proposed penalties
An OSHA investigation of the Dec. 31, 2020, explosion determined that the company failed to equip bucket elevators with monitoring devices that notify workers when a belt is slipping and potentially causing friction that could ignite grain dust. OSHA standards require these devices at grain handling facilities that have a storage capacity of over one million bushels. OSHA also found the company had not updated its dust collection system since its installation in 1974.
Additionally, OSHA found that the company exposed workers to falls by willfully allowing them to walk atop railcars to open and close hatches without fall protection. The company also failed to repair an overhead trolley system used for connecting fall protection devices. The agency determined the system was out of service at the time of its investigation, and noted violations involving lack of preventive maintenance and a failure to designate hazardous areas.
“West Central Agri Services failed to follow industry standards and create company policies for safe grain handling, and needlessly put their own workers in serious danger,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kimberly Stille in Kansas City, Missouri. “Grain handling hazards can be avoided by using well-known safety measures that are proven to help prevent workers from being injured or killed.”
MFA Inc., an entity related to MFA Enterprises Inc., is one of the region's oldest agricultural cooperatives and brings together 45,000 farmers in Missouri and adjacent states. The company supplies animal feeds, seed, fertilizer and crop protection products. The co-op also provides its members with agronomy services, animal-health products and farm supplies, and publishes “Today's Farmer,” an industry trade magazine.
Pennsylvania Manufacturing Company, Owner Sued for Firing Employee in Retaliation for Reporting Safety Concerns
The U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against a Luzerne County paper products manufacturing company and its owner after they fired a worker for raising safety concerns and asking several times for safety gloves to operate a shredder and baler. Prior to the employee suffering injury while operating the machine, their supervisor denied multiple requests for protective equipment.
The department filed a lawsuit against Midvale Paper Box Co. Inc. and owner David Frank in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Scranton.
On Oct. 5, 2017, an OSHA compliance officer conducted a safety inspection at Midvale in response to a complaint alleging – among other things – that the company failed to provide personal protective equipment and made employees unjam machines without implementing required lockout/tagout procedures. The worker, whose hand injury occurred after the company denied the first request for safety gloves, asked twice more after the inspection but the company denied the requests.
The department alleges Midvale Paper Box Co. Inc. later terminated the worker in retaliation for multiple requests for gloves, participating in OSHA’s safety investigation and their mistaken belief that the worker filed the safety complaint that initiated the investigation.
“Employers who retaliate against workers for raising valid safety concerns are breaking the law and creating an unsafe work environment for all of their workers,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Michael Rivera in Philadelphia. “Employees have a right to a safe and healthful workplace, and must never fear that reporting their concerns will cost them their jobs.”
The company is currently contesting citations issued because of the October 2017 OSHA inspection. The agency assessed a proposed penalty of more than $200,000 for nine workplace safety violations, including one serious, two willful and six repeat violations.
The employee filed a complaint with OSHA after their firing. OSHA concurred, concluding Midvale Paper Box Co. and David Frank violated Section 11(c)(1) of the OSH Act when they terminated the employee for engaging in protected activities.
“Retaliation against employees for engaging in protected activities will not be tolerated. We have, therefore, filed the complaint to pursue any and all legal remedies available under the act,” said Regional Solicitor Oscar L. Hampton III in Philadelphia.
The department’s complaint seeks to:
- Prohibit defendants, their officers, agents, servants and employees from violating the provisions of Section 11 (c) of the act.
- Order defendants to reinstate and pay the complainant for all past and future lost wages that resulted from the termination.
- Order defendants to post for no less than 60 days a copy of the decree entered in this case and a notice that the defendants will not discriminate against any employee for engaging in activities protected by Section 11(c) of the act.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the OSH Act and 24 other statutes
protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, motor vehicle safety, healthcare reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. Learn more about OSHA’s whistleblower protections program
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