June 21, 2021
Nearly one in 10 people endure noise levels at work loud enough to cause hearing loss while seven in 10 experience moderately loud noise levels, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, the bureau's Occupational Requirements Survey, published in 2019, found that more than half of the nation's manufacturing workers reported not using personal protective equipment to protect their hearing.
To reduce these workplace dangers and promote hearing conservation programs, the OSHA regional office in Chicago has established a Regional Emphasis Program
to raise awareness among Midwest manufacturing employers.
The REP's initial phase will include informational mailings to employers, professional associations, local safety councils, apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, and OSHA presentations to industry organizations and stakeholders. OSHA will also encourage employers to use the agency's free consultation services to help them implement noise safety strategies and ensure compliance with OSHA standards.
“Earning a living should not come at the expense of hearing loss,” said OSHA Acting Regional Administrator William Donovan in Chicago. “Hearing conservation programs are designed to prevent workplace hearing loss, protect remaining hearing, and provide employers and workers with the knowledge and equipment to control and reduce exposure to noise.”
OSHA encourages employers to take steps to identify, reduce and eliminate hazards related to high levels of noise during the REP's initial phase. Following its three-month outreach, that began June 1, 2021, the REP empowers OSHA to schedule and inspect select manufacturing industries in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin with hearing loss rates higher than the national average.
Use of PFAS in Cosmetics Is Widespread
Many cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada likely contain high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a potentially toxic class of chemicals linked to a number of serious health conditions, according to new research from the University of Notre Dame.
Scientists tested more than 200 cosmetics including concealers, foundations, eye and eyebrow products and various lip products. According to the study, 56 percent of foundations and eye products, 48 percent of lip products and 47 percent of mascaras tested were found to contain high levels of fluorine, which is an indicator of PFAS use in the product. The study was recently published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology Letters
“These results are particularly concerning when you consider the risk of exposure to the consumer combined with the size and scale of a multibillion-dollar industry that provides these products to millions of consumers daily,” Graham Peaslee
, professor of physics
at Notre Dame and principal investigator of the study, said. “There’s the individual risk — these are products that are applied around the eyes and mouth with the potential for absorption through the skin or at the tear duct, as well as possible inhalation or ingestion. PFAS is a persistent chemical — when it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates. There’s also the additional risk of environmental contamination associated with the manufacture and disposal of these products, which could affect many more people.”
Previously found in nonstick cookware, treated fabrics, fast food wrappers and, most recently, the personal protective equipment used by firefighters across the country, PFAS are known as “forever chemicals,” because the chemical compounds don’t naturally degrade — which means they end up contaminating groundwater for decades after their release into the environment. Use of PFAS in foam fire suppressants has been linked to contaminated drinking water systems, prompting the Department of Defense to switch to environmentally safer alternatives, for example.
Studies have linked certain PFAS to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypertension, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children. Peaslee and the research team tested products purchased at retail locations in the United States as well as products purchased online in Canada. The study found high levels of fluorine in liquid lipsticks, waterproof mascaras and foundations often advertised as “long-lasting” and “wear-resistant.” Peaslee said this not entirely surprising, given PFAS are often used for their water resistance and film-forming properties.
What is more concerning is that 29 products with high fluorine concentrations were tested further and found to contain between four and 13 specific PFAS, only one of these items tested listed PFAS as an ingredient on the product label.
“This is a red flag,” Peaslee said. “Our measurements indicate widespread use of PFAS in these products — but it’s important to note that the full extent of use of fluorinated chemicals in cosmetics is hard to estimate due to lack of strict labeling requirements in both countries.”
Peaslee’s novel method of detecting PFAS in a wide variety of materials has helped reduce the use of “forever chemicals” in consumer and industrial products. Following a study from his lab in 2017, fast food chains that discovered their wrappers contained PFAS switched to alternative options. Peaslee continues to receive samples of firefighter turnout gear from fire departments around the world to test for PFAS, and his research has spurred conversations within the firefighter community to eliminate use of “forever chemicals” in various articles of personal protective equipment.
Co-authors of the study include graduate student and lead author Heather D. Whitehead; Emi Eastman, Megan Green, Meghanne Tighe, John T. Wilkinson and Sean McGuinness at Notre Dame; Marta Venier and Yan Wu at Indiana University; Miriam Diamond, Anna Shalin and Heather Schwartz-Narbonne at the University of Toronto; Shannon Urbanik at Hope College; Tom Bruton and Arlene Blum at the Green Science Policy Institute; and Zhanyun Wang at ETH Zurich. Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Great Lakes Protection Initiative of the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada partly funded the study.
NJ Compliance Advisory for NJPDES Permit Holders
The New Jersey DEP has adopted the EPA’s National Compliance Initiative as one of its priorities. Recently, DEP issued a compliance advisory designed to help NJPDES permittees achieve or maintain compliance and avoid potential enforcement and penalties.
If you own or operate a facility with a permit issued under the NJPDES program, including a state-issued permit under the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act, you have an obligation to comply with the effluent limits, reporting requirements, and other requirements in the permit. Non-compliance may subject you to substantial penalties through enforcement actions.
The compliance advisory encourages NJPDES permittees to assess their compliance status in the following ways:
- Review your permit and discharge monitoring reports (DMRs).
- Pay particular attention to new or modified monitoring requirements.
- Test as early in the month as possible to facilitate the ability to do additional monitoring.
- Use EPA’s Enforcement & Compliance History Online (ECHO) tool to look up your facility.
- If your facility has NJPDES violations, DEP recommends that you take immediate action to correct them and notify your Water Compliance and Enforcement inspector.
- Be familiar with non-compliance reporting requirements specified in your permit, which
- Include notifying the DEP’s hotline (1877-WARN-DEP).
Green Chemistry Challenge Awards Honor Innovators
Scientific innovations that decrease or eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals, reduce greenhouse gases and result in a safer and more sustainable product are being honored with Green Chemistry Challenge Awards
from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Michal Freedhoff, Ph.D., principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the EPA, will announce the award winners at the 25th
Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference
, which was held virtually June 14-18.
“The Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners exemplify how chemistry can be part of the solution to our global environmental challenges,” says American Chemical Society (ACS) CEO Thomas Connelly Jr., Ph.D. “We applaud the chemists and chemical engineers being honored this year for their innovative technology platforms, chemicals and processes that reduce the use of hazardous materials, improve efficiency and increase the recyclability of products.”
The winning technologies are:
Academic: Srikanth Pilla, Ph.D., Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, is being recognized for synthesizing a biobased polyurethane foam from paper and pulp waste that is designed to be fully recyclable. This innovation provides a nontoxic alternative to make products such as automobile seat cushions, furniture and insulation.
Small Business: XploSafe LLC, Stillwater, Oklahoma, is being recognized for creating PhosRoxTM, a porous ceramic material that can absorb excess nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater sources such as aquariums, watering ponds, swimming pools and water features. Once saturated, this material can be used as a time-release fertilizer, preventing water pollution, recycling nutrients and reducing the large environmental footprint of phosphate and nitrogen production.
Greener Synthetic Pathways: Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey, is being recognized for redesigning the synthesis and manufacture of gefapixant citrate, a drug to treat chronic cough. Merck reduced the total mass of materials used to create a unit of the active ingredient five-fold and increased the yield 44%, while reducing the cost of materials six-fold compared to the drug’s original manufacturing route. Flow chemistry was employed to improve process safety, and a life cycle assessment showed the new process would decrease the carbon footprint of production by more than 80%.
Greener Reaction Conditions: Bristol Myers Squibb, New York, is being recognized for developing a new class of sustainable reagents that can be applied to a range of applications, including nucleotide chemistry, a growing area of drug development. The new reagent platform bypasses the traditional approach, reducing solvent and reagent use and improving the stability of the reagents and intermediates, making them safer to use. The innovation also eliminates the need for carbon footprint-intensive cold storage, required by the current approach.
The Design of Greener Chemicals: Colonial Chemical, Inc., South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is being recognized for developing Suga®Boost biobased, nontoxic, biodegradable surfactants from functionalized alkyl polyglucosides that perform on par with or better than the commonly used alkyl phenol ethoxylate (APE) surfactants. APEs are targeted for replacement because they have poor biodegradability in the environment, have adverse effects on aquatic and terrestrial organisms and humans, and are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen.
The Green Chemistry Challenge Awards are a collaboration between the EPA and the ACS Green Chemistry Institute®
(GCI). The GCI is an institute of the American Chemical Society dedicated to catalyzing the implementation of green and sustainable chemistry and engineering throughout the global chemistry enterprise and the Society. ACS GCI convenes industrial roundtables, holds an annual Green Chemistry & Engineering conference (gcande.org
), and offers educational resources including grants, awards, webinars and workshops — encouraging scientific innovations to solve environmental and human health issues facing our world today.
Attorneys General Call on SEC to Require U.S. Companies to Disclose Financial Risk from Climate Change
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh joined a coalition of attorneys general in urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require U.S. companies to provide detailed and accurate information about the financial risk they face from climate change. The need to mandate such disclosures is urgent and falls squarely within existing SEC authority. In the past five years alone, climate change-related weather events cost U.S. companies more than $600 billion in direct economic damages.
Mandatory climate change-related disclosures are essential to insulate U.S. and global financial systems from systemic risk associated with climate change and to protect investors, including the many ordinary Americans whose retirement savings are largely investment-based.
“U.S. companies should be fully transparent about the risks they face from the climate crisis,” said Attorney General Frosh. “The SEC has the authority to require these disclosures, as well as companies’ plans to mitigate any impact they may sustain due to the climate crisis.”
Climate change is no longer an abstract challenge to be dealt with at a later date – it is a concrete threat, and one that will have significant impact to the U.S. economy and its financial system. Rising temperatures are expected to decrease the United States’ annual gross domestic product between 1.9% and 10.5%, and the economy is more likely to experience systemic shocks from climate-related events when financial markets lack sufficient, accurate information to price in climate risk. Demand from institutional and retail investors for U.S. companies to respond to the impacts of climate change have grown significantly, as evidenced by the recent election of three new members to Exxon’s board who intend to push the company to address climate change, as well as the overwhelming passage of a shareholder resolution demanding that Chevron reduce its carbon emissions.
Currently, the majority of U.S. companies do not make any climate change-related disclosures, and the disclosures that companies do make are often boilerplate, suggesting that the companies are not thoroughly evaluating or disclosing their exposure to climate change-related risks. In the letter, the attorneys general urge the SEC to mandate that companies, both public and private, assess climate change-related risks affecting their businesses and disclose that information to investors, arguing that the current disclosure requirements the SEC has in place are insufficient.
The coalition specifically suggests that the SEC requires companies to:
- Make annual disclosures of their greenhouse gas emissions and any plans to address their emissions;
- Analyze and disclose the potential impacts of climate change and climate change regulation; and
- Disclose corporate governance and risk management as they pertain to climate change.
Attorney General Frosh joined the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin in sending the comment letter.
California Auto Parts Companies Paid Over $280,000 for Selling Defeat Devices
EPA announced settlements with four automotive parts distributors for violations of the Clean Air Act. The companies illegally manufactured or sold aftermarket auto parts that bypass or disable required emissions control systems, otherwise known as defeat devices. The companies paid $282,926 in penalties.
“These settlements are a very significant step toward our goal of stopping the sale of illegal defeat devices that cause harmful pollution in our communities,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Director of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division, Amy Miller. “We will continue to investigate and penalize anyone who manufactures, sells, or installs these types of illegal products.”
The practice of tampering with diesel and gasoline powered vehicles by installing defeat devices can bring about the emitting of large amounts of NOx and particulate matter, both of which contribute to serious public health problems in the United States. These 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.
The announcement highlights four separate settlement agreements:
AutoAnything, Inc. sold aftermarket exhaust systems designed to defeat the emissions control systems on motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines. The firm also sold products, commonly known as ‘tuners,’ which enable the user to easily turn off emission controls installed and certified by vehicle manufacturers to comply with the Clean Air Act. The company, headquartered in San Diego, Calif., paid a $125,000 penalty.
No Limit Enterprises Inc., doing business as No Limit Fabrication and No Limit Diesel, manufactured and/or sold tuner-related products and other components that bypass, defeat, or render inoperative emission controls installed and certified by vehicle manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions. The company, headquartered in Moorpark, Calif., paid a $150,000 penalty, which was reduced due to financial hardship.
Integrated Strategic Resources, Inc., doing business as Andy’s Auto Sport, sold aftermarket exhaust systems designed to defeat the emissions control systems on motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines. The company, headquartered in Monterey, Calif., paid a $5,000 penalty. The penalty amount was reduced due to financial hardship.
T&R Performance Solutions sold aftermarket parts designed to defeat the emissions control systems of motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines. The company, headquartered in Simi Valley, Calif., paid a $2,926 penalty. This agreement was reached under EPA’s expedited settlement policy, which is only used in certain circumstances to address minor, easily correctable violations.
CITGO to Pay Over $19 Million for Injuries to Natural Resources Resulting from Oil Spill
Acting United States Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook announced that Houston, Texas-based CITGO Petroleum Corporation has agreed to pay $19.69 million to resolve federal and state claims for natural resource damages under the Oil Pollution Act and the Louisiana Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act.
The United States and Louisiana concurrently filed a civil complaint along with the proposed consent decree. The complaint seeks money damages under the Oil Pollution Act and Louisiana Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act for injuries to natural resources resulting from CITGO’s major oil discharge into the Calcasieu River in June of 2006 from its wastewater treatment facility at its Lake Charles refinery. The complaint alleges that CITGO discharged millions of gallons of waste (slop) oil and oily wastewater from two ten-million-gallon storm surge and wastewater tanks at its treatment facility at the Lake Charles refinery. Approximately 150 miles of shoreline were polluted with CITGO’s oil, including residential and marsh areas. The discharged oil killed birds and fish and other aquatic life, contaminated aquatic and shoreline habitats, forced the closure of the ship channel, and disrupted recreational uses of the impacted river and lakes.
"While oil and gas producers are a major source of employment in Louisiana, they have a sacred obligation to protect our environment and use our resources wisely,” stated Acting United States Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook. “This settlement sends a clear signal that those who pollute our environment will be held accountable.”
“Oil companies have a responsibility to protect our waters, people, wildlife, and diverse habitats from oil spills, and those who violate that duty will be held accountable for the harms they cause,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are glad to work with our federal and state natural resource partners on this major effort to help restore and enhance the environment in Louisiana.”
Of the $19,688,149.83 CITGO is required to pay under the consent decree, $19.16 million is for natural resource damages for the spill, which the federal and state trustees will jointly use to plan, design, and perform restoration projects to compensate for the harms caused by the oil spill. The consent decree also secures payment from CITGO for the trustees’ remaining unpaid injury assessment costs, which total over $528,000.
The action was filed by the Department of Justice and the state on behalf of the federal and state trustees for natural resources. The designated federal trustees for the natural resources impacted by CITGO’s oil spill are the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service. The designated state trustees are the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, Department of Public Safety & Corrections, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The federal and state trustees have worked together to perform substantial injury assessment work and are engaged in joint restoration planning efforts.
In an earlier related Clean Water Act enforcement trial spearheaded by the United States on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, the district court determined that the cause of this avoidable disaster was CITGO’s gross negligence in the operation and maintenance of its wastewater treatment facility and the lack of adequate storage and treatment capacity. CITGO had been improperly using the tanks to accumulate oil, sludge, and oily wastewater at its treatment facility for years. Due to the lack of proper operations and the inadequate storage and treatment capacity at the facility, the tanks overflowed during a rainstorm. At least 54,000 barrels of slop oil (2,268,000 gallons) and untold millions of gallons of oily wastewater breached the faulty secondary containment berm around the tanks and flowed into the waterways, including the adjacent Indian Marais waterway, the Calcasieu River, and the Calcasieu Estuary.
The court found that CITGO “does not appear to have recognized the importance of compliance, pollution control, environmental responsibility, and the overall duty imposed on businesses to operate safely.” The court found that CITGO’s oil spill was “massive, excessive, and a tragedy” and that CITGO “failed to inform the Coast Guard of the true nature of the incident.” CITGO was ordered to perform substantial corrective actions to improve its wastewater treatment facility’s storage and treatment capacity and operations, to pay a state penalty of $3 million to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for the discharge and chronic violations of the company’s discharge permit, and to pay a federal Clean Water Act civil penalty of $81 million. Under a separate criminal plea agreement, CITGO paid a $13 million criminal fine.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval.
Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company Pleads Guilty to Causing 2016 Oil Spill and Agrees to $1 Million Fine
United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, LLC, a Texas company, pled guilty on June 15, 2021 to violating the Clean Water Act in connection with an oil spill in 2016, and agreed to pay a $1 million fine and additional restitution to be determined by the court.
According to court documents, Great Lakes admitted to negligently causing the discharge of a harmful quantity of oil into a navigable water of the United States, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The spill took place on September 5, 2016, on the edge of Bay Long near the Chenier Ronquille barrier island, which is east of Grand Isle.
In the plea documents, Great Lakes admitted that in its contract with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Great Lakes was responsible for locating all pipelines in the area of the project and complying with the federal Pipeline Safety Act and the “One Call” system created by the Louisiana Underground Utilities and Facilities Damage Prevention Law. Great Lakes admitted that it violated those two laws by failing to alert pipeline companies about continuing work near their pipelines for several months leading up to the oil spill.
James Tassin, the subcontractor working for Great Lakes who operated the marsh buggy that physically caused the spill, was charged in a separate criminal case, No. 21-cr-8, and he pled guilty as charged on March 18, 2021 and is awaiting sentencing. According to court documents in Tassin’s case, after Great Lakes stopped complying with One Call requirements, a Great Lakes employee instructed Tassin to use his marsh buggy to dig near pipelines, despite that digging not being in NOAA’s approved plans, and without Great Lakes getting approval from any pipeline companies that it was safe to dig. While Tassin was in the area of that work on September 5, 2016, he struck one of the pipelines with his marsh buggy and caused the oil spill. Tassin admitted that a GREAT LAKES employee instructed Tassin not to tell anyone that Tassin had been digging near the site of the spill, so Tassin followed that instruction. In Great Lakes’ plea documents, Great Lakes admitted that it supervised Tassin’s work and that Great Lakes’ negligent supervision of Tassin caused the oil spill.
“Safeguarding the environment is one of the highest priorities for the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to continue working with its federal partners to investigate and hold entities accountable when they neglect their professional and legal obligations and threaten the environment, which places the public and our ecosystem in Southeastern Louisiana at risk.”
“The defendant in this case recklessly violated regulations designed to protect the environment and then tried to hide its actions,” said Christopher Brooks, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Louisiana. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that we will hold violators responsible for breaking our environmental laws.”
“Failure to adhere to laws and regulations intended to protect our Nation’s natural resources can have serious consequences both for the environment and the integrity of the pipeline transportation system, as was the case in this instance,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-in-Charge, Southern Region, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “We echo the commitment expressed by our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to ensuring that those who violate these laws and regulations are held accountable.”
“The Department of Commerce OIG is dedicated to working with our partners to curb fraud, waste and abuse, especially when projects receiving NOAA funding result in environmental hazards. We greatly appreciate the cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement counterparts in ensuring justice is served in this matter,” said Duane Townsend, Special Agent in Charge, U.S Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Great Lakes agreed to pay a fine of $1 million. Great Lakes also agreed to deposit $2 million with the court in an advance of a future hearing to determine the final amount of restitution to any victims. U.S. District Court Judge Greg G. Guidry will set a sentencing hearing at a later date.
The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas D. Moses is in charge of the prosecution.
Pesticide Manufacturer in Contempt of Hazardous Waste Rules
On June 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice, the EPA, state of Missouri, Missouri Attorney General, and Missouri Department of Natural Resources filed a motion in federal district court to hold HPI Products Inc., its owner William Garvey, and St. Joseph Properties LLC in contempt for their ongoing failure to comply with a 2011 settlement between the parties over alleged violations of state and federal environmental laws.
The defendants operate six pesticide manufacturing, storage, and distribution facilities in St. Joseph, Missouri. The motion also seeks to freeze the defendants’ assets and to appoint a receiver to determine if the defendants have the financial ability to clean up hazardous wastes stored at their facilities.
“For years, HPI Products Inc. has failed to comply with its legal requirements to safely store and dispose of hazardous waste,” said Acting EPA Region 7 Administrator Edward H. Chu. “Members of the community have expressed concerns in the past, and this motion is aimed in part at addressing those concerns. Although HPI has partially complied with cleanup requirements, the effort has fallen far short of what is needed and required, and we are hopeful the court will grant the governments’ request to finally get the job finished.”
According to the governments’ court filing, since at least 2007, the defendants stored thousands of containers of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes at its facilities. EPA and state inspectors repeatedly found rusted and/or leaking containers and observed that the facilities themselves were dilapidated with some buildings partially collapsed or in danger of collapse.
In 2011, the defendants, along with the federal and state agencies, entered into a Consent Decree to resolve the defendants’ years-long noncompliance. The Consent Decree required the defendants to, among other things, inventory and characterize all the wastes in their facilities and to properly clean up and dispose of the waste.
Citing the defendants’ noncompliance with the Consent Decree, in 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri initially granted the governments’ request to hold the defendants in contempt and appoint a receiver. Shortly thereafter, the defendants established an escrow account and took other initial steps toward compliance, causing the governments to request that the court put the receivership order on hold and allow the defendants to continue with cleanup efforts.
The governments’ current request for appointment of a receiver notes that, although the company has made some attempts to comply with the Consent Decree since 2018, its efforts are significantly behind schedule and potential threats to human health remain. As a result, the governments are seeking reinstatement of the court’s 2018 order to hold the defendants in contempt and to appoint a receiver to determine if the defendants have the assets required to complete the cleanup and prevent the generation of additional waste until compliance is achieved.
Former PWSA Supervisor Charged with Violating the Clean Water Act
A former supervisor for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been charged in federal court with conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced.
The one-count criminal Information (accusation), filed on Friday, June 11, 2021, named James Paprocki, age 51, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the sole defendant.
According to the Information, Paprocki was a supervisor at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s (PWSA) drinking water plant located in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania. At various points between 2010 and 2017, Paprocki and another supervisor at the plant directed PWSA employees to discharge clarifier sludge into the Allegheny in violation of PWSA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination (NPDES) permit. Clarifier sludge is generated when raw water is converted into potable drinking water. Under the terms of the NPDES permit, the sludge had to be sent to ALCOSAN’s treatment facility. In 2015, PWSA obtained an Industrial User permit. Under the terms of the Industrial User permit, PWSA was authorized to send up to one million gallons of clarifier sludge per day to ALCOSAN’s waste treatment facility. PWSA was also required to report the daily volume of sludge and install flow meters at various locations in the Aspinwall Plant to monitor the amount of sludge. These amounts had to be included in reports that PWSA was required to file with ALCOSAN. A number of the flow meters became inoperable and Paprocki and others employed at the plant began to estimate the amount sludge sent to ALCOSAN.
“Directing the discharge of pollutants into western Pennsylvania’s rivers is unacceptable and violates federal environmental law,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kaufman. “Our office will continue to work with EPA and other state and local environmental regulators to hold offenders accountable and protect the environment.”
“The filing of these new charges in this investigation shows that EPA will hold responsible those who violate environmental regulations designed to ensure that our communities have safe drinking water,” said Jennifer Lynn, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Pennsylvania.
The law provides for a maximum total sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant United States Attorney Michael Leo Ivory and Martin Harrell, Associate Regional Counsel for Criminal Enforcement, EPA Region 3, are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The EPA conducted the investigation leading to the filing of charges in this case. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The filing of an Information generally indicates that the defendant intends to enter a guilty plea.
Gas Company Owner Guilty of Hazardous Waste Violations
HP Gas Products, LLC. (HP Gas) facility owner and operator, John Fansler, pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for storing hazardous wastes without a permit (42 U.S.C. § 6928(d)(2)(A)). Sentencing is scheduled for July 26, 2021.
Fansler and Michael Anaker owned and operated HP Gas, an industrial gas producing company. Between 2009 and 2010, the company manufactured and shipped chemicals, including hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride. Employees stored hazardous waste generated from the production of these chemicals on site in drums and barrels, without a permit.
Following an explosion at the facility in February 2018, local officials discovered a number of rusted gas cylinders, one of which exploded leaking an unknown poisonous gas. Investigators inventoried close to 1,200 containers, many severely degraded and leaking. The EPA cleaned up the site at a cost of approximately $4.4 million. Anaker is scheduled for trial to begin on August 16, 2021.
The EPA Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation.
$23,000 Fine for Discharging Floor Drain Waste to Soil
According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) enforcement investigation, Lakehead Trucking, Inc., discharged wastes from a network of floor drains directly into the ground around its main shop in Duluth. The company is implementing several corrective actions and will pay a $23,000 civil penalty to the MPCA.
MPCA inspections showed Lakehead was “daylighting” floor-drain waste — allowing it to flow into soils rather than into a proper disposal system. Used oil and other automotive fluids from vehicle washing and maintenance contaminated the soil around the building. The company failed to stop the discharges, and clean up the contamination. The company also improperly stored used oil and oil filters, and had begun sand and gravel mining operations at two sites without obtaining required industrial and construction stormwater permits.
In addition to paying the civil penalty, Lakehead Trucking must:
- Connect all floor drains to a certified holding tank and oil/water separator
- Provide documentation that all contaminated soils were properly excavated and disposed of
- Obtain all required permits related to its sand and gravel mining sites
- Document that certified used oil and oil filter storage equipment is installed
Tortilla Manufacturer Cited for Repeatedly Exposing Workers to Amputation Dangers
Previous OSHA inspections had given the operators of a family owned tortilla factory south of Austin every opportunity to resolve its safety issues. Yet, OSHA has found the company still exposing workers to the risks of amputation and other serious injuries.
Worker complaints of dangerous amputation hazards led OSHA to again investigate conditions at El Milagro of Texas Inc. and the agency’s inspectors determined that the company once again failed to follow hazardous energy control
procedures to prevent sudden machine start-up or movement during maintenance and servicing. As a result, inspectors cited El Milagro for three repeat violations related to energy control and four serious violations for failing to follow lockout/tagout procedures.
OSHA also cited the company for a repeat violation for failing to fit-test workers using respirators, and a serious violation for not performing medical evaluations for respirator use. The agency has proposed $218,839 in fines. OSHA cited the company for the same violations in 2015 and 2018.
“More than half of workplace amputations involve some type of machinery, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Energy control and lockout/tagout procedures are vital to protecting workers in manufacturing facilities,” said OSHA Area Director Casey Perkins in Austin, Texas. “OSHA will hold employers accountable when they fail to comply with requirements to prevent worker exposure to dangerous hazards.”
Chemtool, Inc. Cited for Air Emissions
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General's office against Chemtool, Inc., located at 1165 Prairie Hill Road, Rockton (Winnebago County). The referral cites violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Pollution Control Board Regulations related to chemical fire and release of pollutants to the atmosphere.
Chemtool operates a grease, lubricating oil, and fluids manufacturing plant. The facility registered in the Registration of Smaller Sources (ROSS) program and currently operates under the ROSS.
On June 14, 2021, a fire broke out at the facility, resulting in heavy, black smoke that could be observed several miles away from the site. Due to concerns for health impacts due to the fire, an evacuation order was issued by the local fire department for businesses and residents within a one-mile radius of the facility. Governor Pritzker also activated the State Emergency Operation Center to respond to the incident. Personnel from multiple state and local agencies and organizations are responding to this emergency. U.S. EPA has established area monitors to monitor for volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, and lead.
In the referral, the Illinois EPA cites violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations by Chemtool for causing or allowing the release of pollution into the atmosphere. Additional violations may be added as information is available regarding the fire. The referral asks the Attorney General to pursue legal action and require Chemtool to immediately stop the release and provide documentation to the Illinois EPA including the cause of the fire, and an estimate of the nature and amount of any emissions of sulfuric acid mist, particulate matter, and other air contaminants emitted as a result of the fire. The Company will be asked to develop and implement a work plan to remove any hazardous material from the site and address other compliance issues related to the incident. Additional procedures will be required to prevent the reoccurrence of future events.
Phoenix Petroleum Cited for SPCC Violations
EPA announced a Clean Water Act (CWA) proposed settlement with Phoenix Petroleum, LLC (Phoenix) in which the company has agreed to pay $50,000 for alleged Clean Water Act violations. These violations include failure to comply with Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) requirements at the AB Ericson 1-A Tank Battery and the Arlo Moberg 3 Tank Battery in North Dakota. EPA compliance inspections of the AB Ericson 1A Crude Oil Tank Battery in Divide County, North Dakota and the Arlo Moberg Tank Battery in Burke County, North Dakota found Phoenix had an inadequate facility-wide SPCC Plan, inadequate secondary containment measures for the storage tanks, and other technical deficiencies at both tank batteries. Following the inspections, EPA worked with the company regarding the identified deficiencies. In January 2021, Phoenix submitted an acceptable SPCC Plan and photographic evidence confirming the necessary technical corrections had been made at the two facilities.
Discharges from the facilities have the potential to impact White Earth Creek as well as one of its tributaries. White Earth Creek is a tributary to the White Earth River.
"Adequate spill prevention plans include important requirements and measures that protect public health and the environment," said Suzanne Bohan, director of EPA Region 8’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. "EPA will ensure facilities like these tank batteries comply with the federal requirements that safeguard our communities and our rivers and streams.”
The Oil Pollution Prevention requirements of the Clean Water Act are intended to prevent discharges of oil and facilitate responses if discharges occur. Facilities with 1,320 gallons of oil that have the potential for a spill to reach waters of the United States are required to have SPCC Plans. The Oil Pollution Prevention requirements of the Clean Water Act are administered by the EPA and the Coast Guard.
The $50,000 penalty will be deposited into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a fund used by federal agencies to respond to discharges of oil and hazardous substances. Since the 2015 inspection, Phoenix has submitted an SPCC plan that satisfies regulatory requirements and has documented they have corrected the technical deficiencies found during the inspections.
Highway Contractors Fined for Stormwater Violations
Two roadwork contractors are facing $53,000 in fines for allowing polluted stormwater to enter the Cle Elum River during bridge repair work on Interstate 90 in Washington last year.
The Washington Department of Ecology is fining Max J. Kuney Company, Inc., of Spokane and subcontractor KLB Construction of Mukilteo for repeated violations at Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) land at Bull Frog Road last November and December near Cle Elum.
Kuney is being held responsible for discharging process water containing high pH concrete slurry on Nov. 3, 2020, and Dec. 23, 2020, to the Cle Elum River, and fined $10,000 for each day.
Kuney is also subject to a $13,000 penalty for failing to implement best management practices as required under the construction stormwater permit the company held at the 7-acre site, including where the freeway crosses the Cle Elum River
Both contractors are receiving fines of $10,000 each for discharging up to 2,000 gallons of muddy water to the Cle Elum River on Nov. 23, 2020. The discharge occurred when a containment pond was breached, overtopping and scouring away straw wattle protections, and taking muddy soil with it to the river.
A WSDOT official observed and reported the releases to Ecology. “The Cle Elum River is important for sockeye salmon, which have been reintroduced to the watershed by the Yakama Nation,” said Vince McGowan, Ecology’s water quality program manager in Olympia. “This sort of pollution can threaten fish spawning and migration, and is a clear violation of the company’s Construction Stormwater Permit.”
Post Office Cited for Blocked, Obstructed Exits, Other Safety Violations
A federal workplace safety inspection of a U.S. Postal Service location in Hanover Township found employees exposed to potentially serious and fatal injuries in the event of an emergency.
Responding to a complaint, OSHA initiated an investigation at the USPS’s Lehigh Valley Processing and Distribution Center. OSHA determined the facility failed to keep exit routes free and unobstructed at two of the sorting hub’s loading dock areas and cited the USPS with one willful violation.
Investigators also found portable fire extinguishers were not readily accessible and there was inadequate workspace in front of the electrical equipment. OSHA issued two repeat citations related to these workplace violations, as the agency cited the location for the same hazards in Raleigh, North Carolina and Los Angeles, California. In addition, the agency cited the USPS with two serious violations for additional safety hazards.
The facility faces $236,783 in proposed penalties for the violations.
“Exit routes are vital for safe evacuations should a workplace emergency occur. Employers who fail to keep them clear and unobstructed put their workers at risk of injuries or worse,” said OSHA Area Director Jean Kulp in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “The most effective ways to prevent these hazards are to routinely evaluate workspaces and immediately remove materials blocking exits.”
Environmental Laws Pending in Congress
A bill to amend the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to clarify ambiguous provisions, align the Act with relevant case law, reflect modern technologies, optimize interagency coordination, and facilitate a more efficient, effective, and timely environmental review process.
A bill to amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act to reduce the production and use of certain single-use plastic products and packaging, to improve the responsibility of producers in the design, collection, reuse, recycling, and disposal of their consumer products and packaging, to prevent pollution from consumer products and packaging from entering into animal and human food chains and waterways. (Congressional Record: 26 March 2021 [House] Pages H1687-H1692)
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