RCRA Settlement Requires New Sampling for PFAS Contamination

January 08, 2024
The EPA announced that Chemours Company FC, LLC has agreed to conduct sampling for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, surrounding its Washington Works facility in Washington, West Virginia.   
The agreement under Section 3013 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires Chemours to take samples and analyze soil, surface water, sediment, groundwater, and certain waste streams generated by the facility to collect information on known and potential PFAS contamination. This agreement will provide data to improve the agency’s understanding of the extent of PFAS contamination and how migration of PFAS contamination may impact communities. EPA, under its existing enforcement authorities, will continue to address imminent and substantial endangerment situations posed by PFAS contamination.
“Chemours and other PFAS manufacturers must be held accountable for contamination from forever chemicals,” said Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  “EPA is working closely with Ohio and West Virginia to determine the extent of PFAS contamination from the Washington Works facility and will ensure that Chemours takes steps based on the sampling results to better protect nearby communities from forever chemicals.”
This agreement is part of EPA’s FY2024-2027 National Enforcement Compliance Initiative on Addressing Exposure to PFAS. The PFAS initiative is focused on using EPA’s enforcement tools to achieve site characterization, control ongoing releases that pose a threat to human health and the environment, ensure compliance with permits and other agreements (e.g., Federal Facility Agreements) to prevent and address PFAS contamination, and address endangerment issues as they arise.
Chemours owns and operates Washington Works, a manufacturing facility located on the southeast bank of the Ohio River across from the state of Ohio. Since 1951, a variety of PFAS have been manufactured, produced, generated, or used at the facility and there have been PFAS releases from its operations. Certain wastes generated by the facility containing PFAS have been disposed of in landfills which are managed under the West Virginia Solid Waste Management Program and the West Virginia National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Stormwater Program.
“EPA’s announcement today is a crucial action towards protecting communities in West Virginia from these forever chemicals,” EPA Mid-Atlantic Administrator Adam Ortiz said. “It also builds on the work our state partners are doing to provide clean water and clean air for people across the Mountain State.”
Emergency Temporary Standard on Respirable Crystalline Silica Goes into Effect in California
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) approved an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from silicosis, an incurable, potentially fatal lung disease. All California workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica other than those employed in construction or agricultural operations are covered by the emergency temporary standard, which went into effect Dec. 29, 2023. The emergency temporary standard requires employers to implement protections for workers engaged in high exposure “trigger” tasks such as cutting, grinding, polishing, and cleanup of artificial stone containing more than 0.1 percent crystalline silica and natural stone containing more than 10 percent crystalline silica.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has identified 95 cases of workers who developed silicosis since 2019, including 10 workers who have died of the disease, according to a press release issued by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Those who cut artificial stone, a material that can contain 93 percent or greater crystalline silica, are at most risk for developing silicosis.
Under the emergency temporary standard, employers must implement controls such as wetting stone to suppress dust, monitoring respirable crystalline silica levels in the air, and requiring the use of powered air-purifying respirators. Employers must also fulfill communication requirements such as providing information and training appropriate to employees’ language and literacy needs, conducting exposure assessments for silica at least every 12 months, and reporting any employees with confirmed silicosis or lung cancer to Cal/OSHA and CDPH.
$1.675 Billion Penalty Would Be Largest Ever for a Clean Air Act Violation from Defeat Devices
Engine manufacturer Cummins, Inc. recently disclosed that it has reached an agreement in principle with the United States and State of California to pay a $1.675 billion penalty to settle claims that it violated the Clean Air Act by installing emissions defeat devices on hundreds of thousands of engines. The Clean Air Act requires vehicle and engine manufacturers to ensure that their products comply with applicable emission limits. Defeat devices are parts or software that bypass, defeat, or render inoperative emissions controls such as emission sensors and onboard computers. The company allegedly installed defeat devices on 630,000 model year 2013 to 2019 RAM 2500 and 3500 pickup truck engines. The company also allegedly installed undisclosed auxiliary emission control devices on 330,000 model year 2019 to 2023 RAM 2500 and 3500 pickup truck engines.
The Justice Department issued the following statement from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland:
“The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing the environmental laws that protect the American people from harmful pollutants.
“Today, the Justice Department reached an initial agreement with Cummins Inc. to settle claims that, over the past decade, the company unlawfully altered hundreds of thousands of engines to bypass emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act. As part of the agreement, the Justice Department will require Cummins to pay $1.675 billion, the largest civil penalty we have ever secured under the Clean Air Act, and the second largest environmental penalty ever secured.
“The types of devices we allege that Cummins installed in its engines to cheat federal environmental laws have a significant and harmful impact on people’s health and safety. For example, in this case, our preliminary estimates suggest that defeat devices on some Cummins engines have caused them to produce thousands of tons of excess emissions of nitrogen oxides. The cascading effect of those pollutants can, over long-term exposure, lead to breathing issues like asthma and respiratory infections.
“The Justice Department will work diligently to incorporate today’s agreement into a consent decree that will be filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“I am grateful to the dedicated women and men of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, as well as to our partners from the EPA, and the State of California, for their assistance in investigating and prosecuting this case and in reaching this important agreement.
“Violations of our environmental laws have a tangible impact – they inflict real harm on people in communities across the country. This historic agreement should make clear that the Justice Department will be aggressive in its efforts to hold accountable those who seek to profit at the expense of people’s health and safety.”
EPA Highlights Home Radon Testing as a Vital Step to Prevent Lung Cancer During National Radon Action Month
Each January, the EPA recognizes National Radon Action Month to protect public health. This year, the agency is highlighting the importance of home radon testing as a vital step to protect families’ health and prevent harmful impacts like lung cancer. Radon, a colorless and odorless radioactive gas, can build up inside a home if left untreated and pose serious health risks. The best way to know if radon is present in your home and to protect your health is to test for it.
“Radon is a serious public health risk. Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to protect your family and ensure that the air you breathe at home is healthy,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe. “Testing for radon is easy and inexpensive and I encourage everyone to test, fix, and save a life during this year’s Radon Action Month.”
Deputy Administrator McCabe further emphasized this call to action in a video, spreading the word about the importance of radon testing. Affordable do-it-yourself radon test kits are available online and at most home improvement and hardware stores. Some states and municipalities even provide at-home radon test kits for free. You can also hire a qualified radon professional to test your home. Contact your state or Tribal radon program to learn more about radon services in your area.
Radon remains a prominent health hazard in the United States, with millions of residences exhibiting elevated levels. As the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, radon accounts for approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually. Despite its severity, many remain unaware of radon and its potential health implications.
If you haven’t tested your home for radon, National Radon Action Month is the perfect time to take this step to protect yourself and your loved ones. Tens of millions of homes have already been tested, and millions of homes with high radon levels have been fixed.
EPA recommends taking action to fix your home if you discover radon levels above 4 picocuries per liter. If your home does have elevated levels of radon, a qualified professional can install a system to lower your indoor radon levels. For more guidance on how to address radon risks, see EPA’s radon website.
New Jersey Manufacturer Exposes Employees to Dozens of Workplace Safety, Health Hazards
A U.S. Department of Labor inspection in June 2023 at an Oakland manufacturing company — that followed reports of two workers being injured — found employees exposed to dozens of serious safety and health hazards.
OSHA opened its inspection at FB International Inc., which designs, manufactures and installs trade show displays, after being notified about one employee's eye injury and another's foot injury. OSHA's inspection led to citations for 32 serious violations and an assessment of $256,931 in proposed penalties for the company.
OSHA inspectors found FB International failed to do the following:
  • Make sure to keep walking-working surfaces free of hazards and install guardrails at the proper height
  • Keep exit routes free and unobstructed and post exit signs correctly
  • Properly train workers and make sure they used personal protective equipment
  • Provide machine guards, make sure electrical equipment was used properly
  • Store flammable liquids safely
  • Perform a workplace hazard assessment
  • Establish written hazard communication and respiratory programs
  • Provide a medical evaluation to determine if an employee could use a respirator safely
  • Maintain a safety data sheet for each hazardous chemical used
"An OSHA inspection that finds this volume of safety and health violations across several work areas indicates a failed safety and health program," explained OSHA Area Director Lisa Levy in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. "The inspection results should serve as a wake-up call for FB International Inc. to eliminate workplace hazards immediately and make effective safety and health programs a priority."
FB International, Inc. serves clients in the U.S. and abroad with locations in Oakland and Las Vegas.
U.S. Department of Labor Issues $730K Penalty Against Severe Violator
The U.S. Department of Labor has reached a settlement agreement to resolve litigation following a March 2022 investigation at a work site in Wheeling that resulted in a dozen citations issued against an Ohio-based contractor with an extensive history of exposing workers to deadly falls.
The settlement agreement between OSHA and Charm Builders Ltd. affirms 12 citations issued by OSHA – six egregious-willful, five repeat and one serious – and the corresponding $730,000 in penalties that the company must pay along with enhanced compliance measures.
The citations followed an inspection on March 29, 2022, after OSHA received a complaint that alleged Charm Builders did not provide fall protection to workers replacing a roof atop a two-story office building in Wheeling. OSHA cited the contractor for failing to ensure the use of fall protection and safety glasses, allowing unsafe use of portable ladders and failing to provide training to employees on fall hazards.
This marks the 12th time that the agency has cited Charm Builders since 2009 for violations related to fall hazards. OSHA placed the contractor on its severe violators list in 2022.
"This employer's history of defying federal safety standards and continuously jeopardizing workers' safety is simply unacceptable," said OSHA Area Director Blake McEnany in Charleston, West Virginia.
As part of the settlement agreement, Charm Builders Ltd. must also employ enhanced abatement measures that include the following:
  • Hire a safety consultant to evaluate the company's safety program and then submit the plan to OSHA.
  • Make all improvements recommended in the report.
  • Accept unannounced monthly audits conducted by the safety consultant at the company's work sites and written reports submitted to the employer which the employer must retain.
  • Inform OSHA of all its current and future work sites and allow entry for investigators.
  • Not oppose the entry of a Section 11(b) order of enforcement.
"The litigation and settlement agreement demonstrates the Department of Labor's commitment to holding employers legally accountable who egregiously expose workers to the risks of serious injury or worse from deadly falls hazards," said Acting Regional Solicitor of Labor Samantha Thomas in Philadelphia.
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