June 01, 2020
OSHA has issued an alert listing steps employers can follow to implement social distancing in the workplace and to help protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus.
Safety measures employers can implement include:
- Isolate any worker who begins to exhibit symptoms until they can either go home or leave to seek medical care;
- Establish flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), if feasible;
- Stagger breaks and re-arrange seating in common break areas to maintain physical distance between workers;
- In workplaces where customers are present, mark six-foot distances with floor tape in areas where lines form, use drive-through windows or curbside pickup, and limit the number of customers allowed at one time;
- Move or reposition workstations to create more distance, and install plexiglass partitions; and
- Encourage workers to bring any safety and health concerns to the employer’s attention.
New OSHA COVID Guidance for Construction Workers
OSHA has launched a webpage
with coronavirus-related guidance for construction employers and workers. The guidance includes recommended actions to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Employers of workers engaged in construction (such as carpentry, ironworking, plumbing, electrical, heating/air conditioning/ventilation, utility construction work, and earth-moving activities) should remain alert to changing outbreak conditions, including as they relate to community spread of the virus and testing availability. In response to changing conditions, employers should implement coronavirus infection prevention measures accordingly.
The webpage includes information regarding:
- Using physical barriers, such as walls, closed doors, or plastic sheeting, to separate workers from individuals experiencing signs or symptoms consistent with the coronavirus;
- Keeping in-person meetings (including toolbox talks and safety meetings) as short as possible, limiting the number of workers in attendance, and using social distancing practices;
- Screening calls when scheduling indoor construction work to assess potential exposures and circumstances in the work environment before worker entry;
- Requesting that shared spaces in home environments where construction activities are being performed, or other construction areas in occupied buildings, have good air flow; and
- Staggering work schedules, such as alternating workdays or extra shifts, to reduce the total number of employees on a job site at any given time and to ensure physical distancing.
EPA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its federal, state, tribal, and local partners to move forward toward opening the country. From practicing social distancing to continuing to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, all Americans can play a role in reducing the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
“As we reopen areas around the country, EPA encourages Americans to continue cleaning and disinfecting based on the guidelines we recently released in partnership with CDC,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Proper cleaning followed by disinfection using products on EPA’s approved list continues to be an effective way to help reduce the spread of the disease.”
“Cleaning and disinfection plays an important role in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Margaret Kitt, Deputy Incident Manager for CDC’s Community and Health Systems Team, COVID-19 Response. “This guidance is intended for all Americans, whether you own a business, run a school, or are focused on keeping yourself and your family safe and healthy at home.”
EPA and CDC recently released updated guidance
to help facility operators and families properly clean and disinfect spaces. The guidance provides step-by-step instructions for public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools, and homes. EPA has compiled a list of disinfectant
products, including ready-to-use sprays, concentrates, and wipes, that can be used against COVID-19. When using these products, always follow the directions and safety information on the label including leaving the product on the surface long enough to kill the virus, rinsing off the product to avoid ingesting it, and putting the product out of reach of children right away.
It is also important to avoid over-using or stockpiling disinfectants or personal protective equipment (such as gloves). This can result in shortages of critical products needed for emergencies. In the event that disinfectant products on the EPA list are not available, the guidance provides other techniques for disinfecting surfaces that are also effective in reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
EPA is also working with CDC to expand research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including environmental cleanup and disinfection, wastewater virus detection, and salivary antibody assay development. These efforts will help EPA scientists and our federal partners develop a greater understanding of how to clean and disinfect in real-world situations so that the nation can continue to reduce the risk of infection.
Smart Sponge Could Clean Up Oil Spills
A Northwestern University-led team has developed a highly porous smart sponge that selectively soaks up oil in water. With an ability to absorb more than 30 times its weight in oil, the sponge could be used to inexpensively and efficiently clean up oil spills without harming marine life. After squeezing the oil out of the sponge, it can be reused many dozens of times without losing its effectiveness.
“Oil spills have devastating and immediate effects on the environment, human health and economy,” said Northwestern’s Vinayak Dravid
, who led the research. “Although many spills are small and may not make the evening news, they are still profoundly invasive to the ecosystem and surrounding community. Our sponge can remediate these spills in a more economic, efficient and eco-friendly manner than any of the current state-of-the-art solutions.”
The research was published May
27 in the journal Industrial Engineering and Chemical Research. Dravid is the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering
. Vikas Nandwana, a senior research associate in Dravid’s laboratory, is the paper’s first author.
Oil spill clean-up is an expensive and complicated process that often harms marine life and further damages the environment. Currently used solutions include burning the oil, using chemical dispersants to breakdown oil into very small droplets, skimming oil floating on top of water and/or absorbing it with expensive, unrecyclable sorbents.
“Each approach has its own drawbacks and none are sustainable solutions,” Nandwana said. “Burning increases carbon emissions and dispersants are terribly harmful for marine wildlife. Skimmers don’t work in rough waters or with thin layers of oil. And sorbents are not only expensive, but they generate a huge amount of physical waste — similar to the diaper landfill issue.”
The Northwestern solution bypasses these challenges by selectively absorbing oil and leaving clean water and unaffected marine life behind. The secret lies in a nanocomposite coating of magnetic nanostructures and a carbon-based substrate that is oleophilic (attracts oil), hydrophobic (resists water) and magnetic. The nanocomposite’s nanoporous 3D structure selectively interacts with and binds to the oil molecules, capturing and storing the oil until it is squeezed out. The magnetic nanostructures give the smart sponge two additional functionalities: controlled movement in the presence of an external magnetic field and desorption of adsorbed components, such as oil, in a simulated and remote manner.
The OHM (oleophilic hydrophobic magnetic) nanocomposite slurry can be used to coat any cheap, commercially available sponge. The researchers applied a thin coating of the slurry to the sponge, squeezed out the excess and let it dry. The sponge is quickly and easily converted into a smart sponge (or “OHM sponge”) with a selective affinity for oil.
Vinayak and his team tested the OHM sponge with many different types of crude oils of varying density and viscosity. The OHM sponge consistently absorbed up to 30 times its weight in oil, leaving the water behind. To mimic natural waves, researchers put the OHM sponge on a shaker submerged in water. Even after vigorous shaking, the sponge release less than 1% of its absorbed oil back into the water.
“Our sponge works effectively in diverse and extreme aquatic conditions that have different pH and salinity levels,” Dravid said. “We believe we can address a giga-ton problem with a nanoscale solution.”
“We are excited to introduce such smart sponges as an environmental remediation platform for selectively removing and recovering pollutants present in water, soil and air, such as excess nutrients, heavy metal contaminants, VOC/toxins and others,” Nandwana said. “The nanostructure coating can be tailored to selectively adsorb (and later desorb) these pollutants.”
The team also is working on another grade of OHM sponge that can selectively absorb (and later recover) excess dissolved nutrients, such as phosphates, from fertilizer runoff and agricultural pollution. Stephanie Ribet, a Ph.D. candidate in Dravid’s lab and paper coauthor is pursuing this topic. The team plans to develop and commercialize OHM technology for environmental clean-up.
The research, “OHM Sponge: A versatile, efficient and eco-friendly environmental remediation platform,” was supported by the National Science Foundation. Stephanie Ribet, Roberto Reis, Yuyao Kuang and Yash More — all from Northwestern — coauthored the paper.
Two Kansas Companies Fined $1 Million Each in Atchison Chlorine Gas Case
Harcros Chemicals, Inc., and MGP Ingredients, Inc., were fined $1 million each for violating the federal Clean Air Act when a cloud of toxic chlorine gas was released over Atchison, Kan., in 2016, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said. Both companies have paid the fines.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree sentenced the companies during a hearing in federal court in Topeka today. Both companies pleaded guilty to negligently violating the Clean Air Act, which is a Class A misdemeanor.
In their pleas, they admitted that on Oct. 21, 2016, a greenish-yellow chlorine gas cloud formed at MGP Ingredients’ facility in Atchison when 4,000 gallons of sulfuric acid were mistakenly combined with 5,800 gallons of sodium hypochlorite. The Atchison County Department of Emergency Management ordered community members to shelter in place and to evacuate in some areas. Approximately 140 individuals including members of the public, first responders, employees of MGP Ingredients and Harcos Chemicals sought medical attention.
“The chemicals involved in this case posed serious public health and environmental dangers,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Cate Holston of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Kansas. “EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding responsible parties accountable for actions that put an entire community at risk.”
A Replaceable, More Efficient Filter for N95 Masks
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there’s been a worldwide shortage of face masks — particularly, the N95 ones worn by health care workers. Although these coverings provide the highest level of protection currently available, they have limitations. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Nano
have developed a membrane that can be attached to a regular N95 mask and replaced when needed. The filter has a smaller pore size than normal N95 masks, potentially blocking more virus particles.
N95 masks filter about 85% of particles smaller than 300 nm, according to published research. SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) is in the size range of 65–125 nm, so some virus particles could slip through these coverings. Also, because of shortages, many health care workers have had to wear the same N95 mask repeatedly, even though they are intended for a single use. To help overcome these problems, Muhammad Mustafa Hussain and colleagues wanted to develop a membrane that more efficiently filters particles the size of SARS-CoV-2 and could be replaced on an N95 mask after every use.
To make the membrane, the researchers first developed a silicon-based, porous template using lithography and chemical etching. They placed the template over a polyimide film and used a process called reactive ion etching to make pores in the membrane, with sizes ranging from 5–55 nm. Then, they peeled off the membrane, which could be attached to an N95 mask. To ensure that the nanoporous membrane was breathable, the researchers measured the airflow rate through the pores. They found that for pores tinier than 60 nm (in other words, smaller than SARS-CoV-2), the pores needed to be placed a maximum of 330 nm from each other to achieve good breathability. The hydrophobic membrane also cleans itself because droplets slide off it, preventing the pores from getting clogged with viruses and other particles.
Paper Mill Owners Sued for Hazardous Waste Violations
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles announced the filing of a suit in federal court
against the owners of the Luke Paper Mill for seepages into the North Branch Potomac River that threaten public health and the environment.
A black substance that may include contaminants from caustic and corrosive pulping liquor, coal ash or other undiscovered sources continues to seep from a riverbank at the paper mill site and into the river. Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Office of the Attorney General filed a complaint under federal hazardous waste law seeking orders requiring the mill owners, Verso Luke LLC and its parent company, Verso Corporation, to stop the discharges and remediate any harm caused by them. The complaint
also seeks orders requiring Verso to post signs warning of health risks and to pay civil penalties.
“Verso continues to contaminate the Potomac River with toxic pulping liquor. This is violative of Maryland’s environmental laws, devastating for water quality and harmful to fish and wildlife,” said Attorney General Frosh. “We are asking the court to force Verso to stop its discharges of pulping liquor, clean up its discharges, and provide the public with the required health notices.”
“Maryland is fighting in federal court for the health of our Potomac River and the vitality of our communities,” said Secretary Grumbles. “We will push to end the toxic pollution and accelerate the productive reuse of the former mill site.”
In December, Attorney General Frosh and MDE filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Allegany County alleging multiple violations of state environmental laws. In February, MDE provided a notice of intent to sue in federal court to address, in addition to water pollution, a full range of potential impacts including any contamination of the land, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for Maryland in conjunction with a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed in March in that court by Potomac Riverkeepers Inc. on similar issues. In moving to intervene in that case, Maryland states that the state’s role as owner of the river and MDE’s role as Maryland’s environmental regulator show that no party in the Riverkeepers’ action can adequately represent the state’s interest in the litigation. Also, considerations of judicial economy show that the intervention is appropriate, as MDE seeks to bring state law claims into the federal case to avoid duplication and allow one court to resolve all of the claims arising from common facts.
In April 2019, an angler observed and reported to the State of Maryland that “pure black waste” was entering the North Branch Potomac River near the mill, the complaint states. The complaint describes MDE’s response to that and other reports of seepages, including sampling that showed high pH levels, high sulfur and sodium contents and metals such as mercury and boron.
The discharge appears to include white, green, or black liquor, or some combination of the pulping liquors that are created and sometimes reused as part of the paper-making process. Pulping liquors are considered caustic and corrosive materials that can cause severe skin and eye burns and respiratory problems.
The pulping liquors were stored in tanks on the West Virginia side of the river. In November, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued an order to Verso to empty the tanks on their side of the river. In response, Verso piped material from the tanks in West Virginia to tanks in Maryland, the complaint states, adding that MDE’s environmental consultant took samples of that material and found a high pH level.
The release of black liquid may have occurred through the leaking, spilling, or emitting this material onto the ground, where it then migrated, and continues to migrate, through soil and water into the North Branch Potomac River. The analysis of the seepage also found metals associated with coal ash. An evaluation showed the black discharge material is highly toxic to aquatic life.
Starting in April 2019, MDE directed Verso to determine the source of the seepage and take steps to contain and remove the discharge. In March, Verso submitted a revised Remedial Investigation and Corrective Action Plan that identified additional steps to be taken by Verso’s contractor to investigate the source and extent of contamination and identified some initial corrective actions to capture some of the discharge. However, the revised plan does not identify steps that would fully and permanently stop the discharge and remediate the contaminated area, and the black discharge continues to seep from the riverbank into the river.
The suit also states that MDE, through counsel, directed Verso to put up signs in the vicinity of the seepage stating: “Keep Out, No Trespassing, Hazardous Materials Present, Do Not Drink or Have Contact with the Water in the Immediate Area.” Verso’s counsel advised that the company had put up signs stating, “Restricted Area, Do Not Enter,” in the vicinity of the discharge, but would not put up signs with the language directed by MDE. The complaint seeks an order requiring Verso to post warning signs.
Employers Reminded to Protect Outdoor Workers from Heat Illness
California’s heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction and landscaping. Other workers protected by the standard include those that spend a significant amount of time working outdoors such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.
Employers must assess each worksite and protect their workers from heat illness while also taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is currently widespread in the community and considered a workplace hazard. Employers should be attentive to allow enough space and time for employees to take breaks as needed in adequate shade while also maintaining a safe distance from one another. Extra infection prevention measures should be in place such as disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, including the water and restroom facilities.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, employers should provide cloth face coverings or allow workers to use their own. Cloth face coverings are not personal protective equipment, but may help prevent the spread of the disease. Employers should be aware that wearing face coverings can make it more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off, so additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating. Agricultural and other outdoor workers are not encouraged at this time to use surgical or respirator masks as face coverings.
Employers with outdoor workers must take the following steps 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.
- Shade – Provide shade when workers request it or when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. 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. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention special emphasis program includes enforcement of heat regulations as well as multilingual outreach and training programs for California’s employers and workers. Details on heat illness prevention requirements and training materials are available online on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention web page
and the 99calor.org
informational website. A Heat Illness Prevention online tool
is also available on Cal/OSHA’s website.
Winds Spread PFAS Pollution Far from a Manufacturing Facility
Concerns about environmental and health risks of some fluorinated carbon compounds used to make non-stick coatings and fire-fighting foams have prompted manufacturers to develop substitutes, but these replacements are increasingly coming under fire themselves. To get a handle on the scope of the problem, scientists have been studying how widely these chemicals have contaminated the environment. Now, researchers report in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology
that, in one case, they have dispersed more broadly than previously realized.
These per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, known as PFAS, include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Because of exceptional stability, these chemicals don’t break down, so they can linger in soils and rivers if released into the environment, and they can persist in the body if ingested. Possible health effects include cancer, liver toxicity and disruption of the immune, endocrine and reproductive systems. As an alternative, industry has turned to other PFAS thought to be less likely to bioaccumulate, such as hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), though their potential toxicity is unknown. Prior studies documented historical PFOA contamination mainly west and southwest of a fluoropolymer production facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that switched from PFOA to HFPO-DA in 2013. Linda Weavers and colleagues wanted to assess ongoing impacts from the plant on a broader scale, including areas north and northeast of the facility. In addition, the researchers wanted to check for dispersal of HFPO-DA, for which little environmental information is available.
The team collected surface water, drinking water and soil samples downwind and upstream from the plant and near landfills that contain PFAS waste. Sample analysis by mass spectrometry showed PFOA and HFPO-DA had dispersed to surface water and soil in multiple locations as far as 30 miles from the plant, with atmospheric transport playing a key role. The findings suggest HFPO-DA, like PFOA, could get into groundwater, and that these PFAS are being carried outside current surveillance zones. The researchers recommend more widespread monitoring of surface and drinking water to better define how and where PFAS exposures are occurring.
Florida Contractor Cited for Exposing Employees to Cave-In Hazards at Excavation Site in Jacksonville
OSHA has cited Jax Utilities Management Inc. for exposing employees to cave-in hazards at a Jacksonville, Florida, worksite. The construction contractor faces $56,405 in penalties.
OSHA initiated the inspection as part of the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation
after an investigator saw two employees working in an excavation without cave-in protection. OSHA cited
the company for exposing employees to struck-by hazards by failing to adequately slope the walls of the excavation or use a protective system, and provide head protection. In 2017, OSHA cited Jax Utilities Management Inc. for a similar violation involving lack of cave-in protection.
“Excavation work is dangerous if employers fail to take required precautions to identify and eliminate hazards,” said OSHA Jacksonville Area Office Director Michelle Gonzalez. “Employers can contact OSHA for compliance assistance with trenching and excavation requirements.”
Tower Company Cited After Fatal Fall at Worksite in Mississippi
OSHA has cited Pegasus Tower Co. for exposing employees to falls after a fatality at a Starkville, Mississippi, worksite. The tower building company faces $140,720 in penalties.
An employee suffered a fatal fall from a communications tower while attempting to connect two sections during the construction. OSHA cited
the Calico Rock, Arkansas-based company for failing to ensure employees used fall protection, and designate, identify and train employees to provide rescue in the event of an emergency.
“This tragedy underscores the legal requirement to implement a safety program that effectively addresses the hazards associated with communication tower work,” said OSHA Jackson Area Office Director Courtney Bohannon.
OSHA’s Communication Towers webpage
provides resources on appropriate fall protection, and requirements employers must follow to ensure the safety of workers who climb telecommunications towers to perform construction activities.
Texas Chemical Manufacturer Cited for Safety Hazards After Massive Explosion and Fire
OSHA has cited TPC Group LLC for exposing employees to workplace safety and health hazards after a fire and explosion at the Port Neches, Texas, plant in November 2019. The company faces $514,692 in fines.
OSHA opened an investigation after vapor formed at the base of a butadiene finishing tower ignited and caused several explosions and fires. OSHA cited TPC for three willful violations for failing to develop and implement procedures for emergency shutdown, and inspect and test process vessel and piping components.
“Employers are required to conduct regular inspections and address potential hazardous conditions associated with chemical processes to prevent catastrophic events from occurring,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA has extensive resources available to help employers and workers understand requirements for process safety management.”
Florida Construction Contractors Cited After Employee Suffers Fatal Fall from Aerial Lift
OSHA has cited two contractors for failing to protect employees from fall hazards at a construction worksite in North Miami, Florida. Prestige Estates Property Management LLC of North Miami and Jesus Balbuena of Miami, Florida, face $44,146 in penalties.
The investigation followed an employee's 20-foot fall from an aerial lift that led to fatal injuries. OSHA cited the employers for failing to ensure the use of a fall protection system to protect workers on an aerial lift, train employees to recognize and avoid fall hazards, and develop and implement an accident prevention program. OSHA also cited Prestige Estates for failing to report a hospitalization within 24 hours and a fatality within 8 hours, as required.
"Allowing employees to work at heights without using proper fall protection methods increases the risk of serious or fatal injuries," said OSHA Acting Fort Lauderdale Area Director Juan Torres. "Employers have an obligation to ensure the working conditions they ask employees to operate under are free of recognized hazards."
Sprague Resources Fined for Emissions from Heated Petroleum Storage Facilities
Under a proposed settlement
with the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Sprague Resources LP will take steps to limit emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil storage tanks at seven facilities across New England. The terms of the proposed settlement are designed to bring Sprague into compliance with federal air pollution control laws
that regulate the emissions of VOCs from heated #6 oil and asphalt tanks, which can pose public health risks.
The tanks covered under this settlement are located in Everett, Quincy, and New Bedford, Massachusetts; Searsport and South Portland, Maine; Newington, New Hampshire; and Providence, Rhode Island. This agreement resolves alleged violations by Sprague of federal and Commonwealth of Massachusetts clean air laws.
“This settlement will improve compliance with important clean air laws at Sprague’s facilities that have heated oil tanks, which means cleaner air for communities across New England,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel. “EPA is dedicated to working with our state and federal partners to address important air pollution issues, like controlling VOC emissions from heated oil tanks across New England.”
“In the midst of a pandemic, it is more important than ever that industrial facilities emitting dangerous air pollutants comply with laws that protect the health of our residents—especially those in environmental justice communities disparately impacted by COVID-19,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. “Today’s settlement will help protect our clean air and reduce health risks within our most vulnerable communities, which are a top priority during this crisis.”
“Sprague is required to obtain air quality permits to regulate its operations, consistent with other petroleum and asphalt storage facilities in Massachusetts,” said Eric Worrall, Director of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington. “This settlement will assist Massachusetts’ efforts to further reduce ozone and improve air quality in the Commonwealth and throughout New England.”
Under the agreement, Sprague will apply for revised state air pollution control permits for facilities in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, where such permits are required, which will limit the amount of #6 oil and asphalt the company can pass through its facilities and will limit the number of tanks that can store #6 oil and asphalt at any one time. These measures will reduce VOC emissions, improving air quality and reducing public health risks. Under the agreement, Sprague must apply for permits for facilities in Everett and Quincy, Massachusetts, Newington, New Hampshire, and South Portland and Searsport, Maine.
A Sprague-owned facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts, will stop storing #6 oil and asphalt. This facility would be allowed to open one tank to store asphalt if it obtains a permit for that activity. Sprague will install, operate and maintain carbon bed systems to reduce odors from several tanks in South Portland, Maine, and Quincy, Massachusetts, which have been the subject of odor complaints from nearby residents. Sprague will pay a total of $350,000 in civil penalties, $205,000 to the U.S. government and $145,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
VOC emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. To reduce ozone levels, the Clean Air Act and state air pollution laws require state permits to limit VOC emissions.
Sprague’s heated petroleum storage tanks emit VOCs mainly because #6 oil and asphalt are stored at high temperatures to keep them in liquid rather than solid form. At high temperatures certain substances within these petroleum products vaporize—changing from liquid to vapor—and are vented to the air. Among other things, asphalt is used for paving roads, and #6 oil is used to heat industrial boilers.
VOCs include a variety of chemicals that may produce adverse health effects, such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Breathing ozone formed from VOCs can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma. Ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a Complaint and lodged the proposed Consent Decree in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts today. The proposed Consent Decree is subject to a 30‑day public comment period and final court approval. For more information, copies of the Complaint and Consent Decree will be available on the Department of Justice website, at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
Three Companies Settle Alleged Clean Air Act Violations Involving After-Market Devices for Diesel Trucks
EPA announced three settlements with vehicle repair shops involved in the illegal sale and installation of aftermarket devices that were designed to defeat the emissions control systems of heavy-duty diesel engines.
The companies – Innovative Diesel LLC in Elkton, Maryland; AirFish Automotive LLC in Laurel, Delaware; and Diesel Works LLC in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania – allegedly violated the Clean Air Act’s prohibition on the manufacture, sale, or installation of so-called “defeat devices,” which are designed to “bypass, defeat, or render inoperative” a motor vehicle engine’s air pollution control equipment or systems.
Illegally-modified vehicles and engines contribute substantial excess pollution that harms public health and impedes efforts by EPA, tribes, states and local agencies to attain air quality standards.
Innovative Diesel agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations involving the sale of or offering for sale of defeat devices at its diesel truck repair facility. Innovative Diesel sold at least 4,876 devices designed to defeat emission controls on diesel trucks manufactured primarily by Ford Motor Co. The aftermarket products included hardware components and electronic tuning software, known as “tunes,” that hack into and reprogram a vehicle’s electronic control module to alter engine performance and enable the removal of filters, catalysts and other critical emissions controls that reduce air pollution.
AirFish Automotive agreed to pay a $32,333 penalty to resolve similar Clean Air Act violations associated with the sale of 30 aftermarket defeat devices at its facility in Laurel, Delaware. Additionally, AirFish Automotive offered for sale nine aftermarket defeat devices on its company web site.
Diesel Works agreed to pay a $22,171 penalty to resolve similar violations related to 18 sales and 15 instances of installation of performance tuning products, exhaust replacement pipes, and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) delete kits.
Today’s vehicles emit far less pollution than vehicles of the past. This is made possible by careful engine calibrations, and the use of filters and catalysts in the exhaust system. Aftermarket defeat devices undo this progress and pollute the air we breathe. The emissions impact depends on the original vehicle design, and the extent of the vehicle modifications. EPA testing has shown that a truck’s emissions increase drastically (tens or hundreds of times, depending on the pollutant) when its emissions controls are removed. Even when the filters and catalysts remain on the truck, EPA testing has shown that simply using a tuner to recalibrate the engine (for the purpose of improving fuel economy) can triple emissions of NOx.
As part of the settlements, the companies did not admit liability for the alleged violations but have certified that they are now are in compliance with applicable requirements.
These enforcement actions are part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative for Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices. Since 2016, EPA has resolved more than 50 enforcement cases with companies that have allegedly manufactured, sold or installed hardware or software specifically designed to defeat required emissions controls on vehicles and engines used on public roads.
New Jersey Construction Companies Cited for Exposing Employees to Fall, Other Safety Hazards
OSHA has cited AA& B Builders Inc. and Ebenezer General Construction Excavating for exposing employees to safety hazards on a worksite in Ewing, New Jersey. The companies face a combined total of $148,264 in proposed penalties.
OSHA’s Marlton Area Office initiated an inspection on February 27, 2020, under its local emphasis program for fall hazards in construction, when a compliance officer observed employees exposed to hazards involving falls, electrical cords, and scaffolding on the job site. The agency cited AA&B Builders, the general contractor on the worksite, for four repeat and six serious violations for the safety hazards, and proposed $97,542 in penalties. Ebenezer received citations for 10 serious violations and $50,722 in proposed penalties.
“Construction is a high-hazard industry, so employers must provide all of the necessary safeguards to protect workers from serious or fatal injuries,” said OSHA Marlton Area Director Paula Dixon-Roderick.
Georgia Contractor Cited for Exposing Employees to Excavation Hazards
OSHA has cited Construction Management & Engineering Services Inc. for exposing employees to excavation hazards at a Duluth, Georgia, worksite. The Norcross, Georgia-based construction contractor faces $134,937 in penalties.
“Working in an unprotected excavation is a hazard that puts workers at risk of serious and fatal injuries,” said OSHA Atlanta-East Acting Area Office Director William Cochran. “Employers can contact OSHA for compliance assistance with trenching and excavation requirements.”
Pennsylvania DEP Accepting Feedback on Regulations to Reduce Air Pollution from Natural Gas Development
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is accepting public comment and will hold three virtual public hearings on regulations to reduce air pollution from existing unconventional natural gas wells and infrastructure. The regulations would restrict volatile organic compounds (VOC) and have a co-benefit of reducing methane emissions as well.
“This regulation is part of Governor Wolf’s Methane Reduction Strategy, which is an important part of fighting climate change in Pennsylvania,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “By utilizing reasonable pollution controls we can reduce air pollution from gas wells and related infrastructure and improve air quality.”
The draft regulation would require additional controls at unconventional natural gas well sites and related infrastructure like compressor stations. The draft regulation, if enacted, would reduce air pollution by 4,404 tons per year of VOCs and 75,603 tons per year of methane.
VOCs can cause ground-level ozone, which is a public health hazard, especially in hot summer months. Methane is a greenhouse gas and a primary component of natural gas.
American Honda Motor Co., Inc. to Pay $1.9 Million in Penalties for Small Engine Emissions Violations
The California Air Resources Board has reached a settlement of $1,927,800
with American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (Honda) to resolve clean-air violations related to the sale of small off-road engines in California.
Honda is located in Torrance, California and is a North American subsidiary of the Honda Motor Company, Ltd.
“Compliance with our regulations is a crucial step toward improving air quality and protecting public health," said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey. “We treat seriously any manufacturer’s failure to ensure that their products meet the health-protective standards in place when we certified those products for sale in California.”
The violations involved small off-road engines used in generators and lawn and garden equipment. Through extensive tests in its lab CARB discovered that this equipment did not meet the evaporative control emission standards that Honda had originally agreed to during the certification process. Evaporative emissions of raw fuel, which occur both while an engine is being used and at rest, are known as volatile organic compounds and are a significant precursor of smog.
When a manufacturer certifies small off-road engines they can set their emissions limit to meet the current regulation, or choose to demonstrate that they have met standards below those required by the current regulation. In that case, the manufacturer earns what are known as evaporative credits based on the additional reductions that they assert in the certification process. These credits can then be used for certification purposes to offset emissions on future products. Because Honda’s engines did not meet the self-selected lower evaporative emission limits, they forfeited the credits they had earned for claiming to meet stricter evaporative emissions standards, and also gave up additional credits to mitigate the environmental harm.
To resolve the violations, Honda agreed to pay a total settlement of $1,927,800, with $963,900 going to the California Air Pollution Control Fund. The remaining funds, roughly $1 million, will go to the IQAir Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to promote environmental justice by helping to improve environmental health conditions in neighborhoods unfairly affected by pollution as a result of economic, ethnic, or racial factors.
The IQAir Foundation will use these funds to benefit three Supplemental Environmental Projects:
- The Coachella Schools Flag Program: The purpose of the Air Quality School Flag Program is to help people with asthma by improving awareness and education about the school environment with outdoor air quality practices. The air quality school flag program uses colored flags based on U.S. EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) to notify teachers, coaches, students, and others about outdoor air quality conditions.
- The Oakland Unified School District Project 2019 – 2023: This project proposes to install and maintain high-performance air filtration systems in schools located in communities impacted by air pollution within Oakland Unified School District. School districts will provide access to schools, and will maintain the air filtration systems after their maintenance staff is trained on maintenance procedures for these systems.
- The Coachella Valley Mitigation Project Extension 2018 – 2023: This project will install and maintain high-performance air filtration systems in schools located in communities impacted by air pollution. This will be used in conjunction with the Coachella Schools Flag Program.
Violations of California’s emission requirements pose a significant health threat to California residents. They lead to higher amounts of air pollution, which can then exacerbate respiratory ailments and negatively affect other health conditions such as shortness of breath, headaches, birth defects, cancer or damage to internal organs.
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