USDOT’s Federal Railroad Administration Announces New Safety Initiative with a Focus on Hazardous Materials

March 06, 2023
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose recently announced a national initiative for focused inspections on routes that carry high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs) and other trains carrying large volumes of hazmat commodities. Working with USDOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), FRA will identify these routes and prioritize them for inspection beginning immediately. The inspections will start in East Palestine, Ohio, and expand to communities nationwide.
FRA inspectors, using a combination of human visual inspections and technology, will assess the overall condition of rail infrastructure as well as railroads’ compliance with FRA regulatory requirements governing track. Information will be shared with railroads as well as rail labor organizations, and it will be periodically published for the public to increase transparency. 
“Safety is always our number one priority, and the Norfolk Southern derailment reminds us of the importance of ensuring no industry can put its profits over the safety of its workers and the communities it serves,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “As our investigators continue their work to support NTSB’s investigation, we are also taking additional steps right now to prevent future disasters and we insist that the rail industry do the same.”  
FRA’s Automated Track Inspection Program (ATIP) inspection vehicles, which are paired with human inspections, surveyed approximately 180,000 miles of track last year and help remediate around 10,000 track safety defects annually. 
“FRA is vigorously responding to the concerns expressed by residents of East Palestine and the surrounding areas, and as a result of the recent derailment, we are ramping up our safety efforts across the country,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose. “FRA will begin ATIP and visual inspections of Norfolk Southern Railway track in the vicinity of East Palestine. Many more inspections will follow, and the data that they yield will allow us, as well as railroads, labor, and State and local governments, to implement better-informed decisions and policies regarding rail safety.”
This kick-off makes good on one of the key USDOT actions in Secretary Buttigieg’s to ensure freight rail accountability and improve safety following the Norfolk Southern derailment. In addition to this initiative USDOT continues to pursue several other safety-related actions, such as:
  • Advancing a rule requiring two-person train crews
  • Targeting legacy tank cars – especially those carrying hazmat – for inspections and safety reviews
  • Deploying resources made available by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to upgrade and modernize rail infrastructure and to make safety improvements over the long-term
  • Evaluating new rules that would require electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on HHFTs and other trains transporting large quantities of hazardous materials
Also, this week Secretary Buttigieg called on all Class I railroads to take part in FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System, and FRA issued a Safety Advisory to all railroads on hot bearing wayside detectors.
EPA Proposes Principles, Approach for Cumulative Risk Assessment
EPA recently published a set of principles for evaluating cumulative risks under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a move the agency characterizes as a step toward “developing [its] capability under TSCA to examine risk to people from exposure to multiple chemicals with similar effects.” EPA outlines its approach for applying these new principles in an accompanying draft proposal for the cumulative risk assessment of certain phthalate chemicals undergoing risk evaluation related to TSCA section 6, which provides EPA with authorities for addressing risks from chemical substances. According to the agency, phthalates are used in many industrial and consumer products and are concerning to EPA due to their toxicity and the potential for high exposure to these chemicals from their widespread use.
EPA has previously approached TSCA risk assessments by evaluating the risk posed by single chemical substances under their conditions of use. The agency’s recent proposal recognizes that people are often exposed to multiple chemicals that have similar effects on human health at the same time.
“In some of these cases, EPA believes that the best approach to evaluate risk to human health may be to look at the combined risk to health from these chemicals,” an agency press release explains. “[W]hen chemicals are sufficiently similar toxicologically and are found to present co-exposures—meaning people are at exposed to multiple chemicals at the same time—a cumulative risk assessment may be appropriate.”
EPA proposes in its approach to group the substances di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DIBP), dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP), and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) together for cumulative risk assessment under TSCA because they are toxicologically similar, and the U.S. population is co-exposed to them.
Both the proposed cumulative risk assessment principles and EPA’s proposed phthalate approach are available for public comment. A public virtual meeting of the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals, a federal advisory committee charged with providing scientific advice, information, and recommendations to EPA on chemicals regulated under TSCA legislation, will be held May 8–11, 2023, to peer review these proposals.
Further details on EPA’s proposals regarding cumulative risk assessment can be found in the draft documents available for download from the EPA website.
New Map Shows Toxic Chemical Releases, Fires, and Explosions Happen Every Two Days in the U.S.
A new map created by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters on Friday shows 224 fires, explosions, and releases of toxic chemicals have happened in the past year. The map is periodically updated to reflect ongoing incidents.
Since April 2020, more than 475 chemical incidents have occurred. This includes incidents like the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that caused carcinogenic and toxic contaminations of soil, air, and a river that’s used by millions of people. The coalition’s new map intends to underscore the startling regularity of chemical disasters in the U.S. and motivate the need for stronger preventative policies to better protect workers and fenceline communities from catastrophic, irreversible harm.
Over 175 million Americans live near high-risk chemical facilities that are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In August 2022, the EPA made long-awaited revisions to its Risk Management Program under the Chemical Accident Prevention Rule, intended to prevent chemical disasters and regulate facilities that use or store toxic materials. The draft was a necessary step but does not go far enough to prevent such disasters from happening.
In October 2022, more than 100 environmental and health advocates urged the EPA to do more by strengthening the proposed rule and including key ways to fully satisfy the law and protect workers, fight climate change, and address environmental injustices. Dozens of members of Congress have also called on EPA to pass a stronger rule. Most recently, 27 Congressional members signed a letter urging EPA to act now on the issue.
Oregon DEQ Issues 8 Penalties in January for Environmental Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued 8 penalties totaling $149,191 in January for various environmental violations. A detailed list of violations and resulting penalties is at
Fines ranged from $5,100 to $57,350. Alleged violations included a company transporting hazardous waste without proper documentation, wastewater facilities discharging more pollution than allowed by their permits, and a manure-to-energy facility failing to conduct a required annual emissions test.
DEQ issued civil penalties to the following organizations and individuals:
  • Advanced Chemical Transport, Inc., Clackamas, $20,400, hazardous waste
  • Advantis Credit Union, Oregon City, $6,000, stormwater
  • Arnprior Aerospace Portland, Inc., Portland, $10,716, stormwater
  • Black Butte Ranch, Sisters, $5,100, wastewater
  • City of Sweet Home, Sweet Home, $22,625, wastewater
  • RSG Forest Products, Inc., Liberal, $9,600, wastewater
  • Teeny Foods Corporation, Portland, $57,350, air quality
  • WOF PNW Threemile Project LLC, Boardman, $17,400, air quality
MPCA’s Announces 153 Compliance and Enforcement Cases in Second Half of 2022
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) closed 153 enforcement cases for water quality, air quality, waste, stormwater, and wastewater violations in the second half of 2022. Environmental enforcement investigations often take several months, in some cases more than a year, to complete the investigation and issue final enforcement documents to regulated parties. Penalties are calculated using several factors, including harm done or potential for harm to the environment, the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws, or how responsive and cooperative a regulated party was in correcting problems.
Imposing monetary penalties is only part of the MPCA’s enforcement process. Agency staff continue to provide assistance, support, and information on the steps and tools necessary to bring any company, individual, or local government back into compliance.
More details on all 153 cases completed during the second half of 2022 can be found on the MPCA’s Compliance and Enforcement web page.
Momentum Toward Protecting Minnesotans from PFAS
State government agencies, in collaboration with local partners, are leading trailblazing work to protect Minnesotans from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollution.
In Minnesota, PFAS contamination was first measured in the eastern Twin Cities in the early 2000s. Since then, PFAS have been detected in water, air, soil, and fish across Minnesota. PFAS are in air emissions from industrial facilities, wastewater from industrial and municipal sources, soil and water surrounding firefighting training sites, groundwater surrounding landfills, and are sometimes found with no obvious source at all.
Two years ago this month, Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Department of Health (MDH), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Department of Agriculture (MDA) launched a strategic, coordinated approach to protecting families and communities from PFAS. The plan is called the PFAS Blueprint. It takes a three-pronged approach:
  • Prevent PFAS pollution wherever possible
  • Manage PFAS pollution when prevention is not feasible, or pollution has already occurred
  • Clean up PFAS pollution at contaminated sites
This is challenging work, and much more lies ahead, but great progress has been made to-date despite the complexity of the problem and limited resources to address it. On this second anniversary of the PFAS Blueprint, here is a look at some accomplishments made in the lead up to and since its launch.
Pollution prevention is always the best option, especially for something as long-lasting and consequential as PFAS. While PFAS may be best known for their role in products like non-stick cookware and stain-resistant carpeting, they are found in thousands of other products and used in countless industrial processes, like metal plating and refining. Finding safer alternatives to PFAS is the exciting frontier of protecting communities from them. Minnesota is engaged in efforts to identify PFAS upstream and reduce emissions at the source.
Managing PFAS pollution includes finding it and improving our understanding of it.
To date, the state has tested for PFAS at 854 of Minnesota’s 965 public water supplies, 101 closed landfills, seven compost sites, fish in over 185 water bodies, and even ambient air at four sites across the state. PFAS monitoring in the ambient groundwater network and at PFAS remediation sites is also ongoing. In the East Metro area, over 3,400 private and non-community wells have also been tested, as well as ecological species.
When PFAS are detected and further action is needed, local authorities are informed when appropriate, the source of the pollution is investigated, and clean up begins. Cleanup, which includes mitigation and remediation measures, might include actions like stopping the source, providing bottled water, installing filtration systems, removing contaminated soil, and connecting a community to a different water supply. Cleanup projects are costly and can require years to complete.
Metal-Plating Company Continues to Willfully Expose Employees Working with Corrosive Acids to Eye Injuries
A federal workplace safety investigation of an El Paso jewelry metal-plating finisher found the company again exposing workers to serious hazards, including willfully failing to protect people working with dangerous acids and other chemicals from potentially permanent eye injuries.
OSHA cited Arizona Traders Co. for not providing required eyewash stations or showers in areas where employees faced the risks associated with hydrochloric and nitric acids, and ferric chloride. The findings follow an OSHA investigation opened in September 2022.
In all, OSHA issued the company citations for 12 serious violations after inspectors identified the hazardous exposure to harmful chemicals and also found obstructed exits and electrical hazards, and improperly stored acetylene and oxygen cylinders. They also determined Arizona Traders Co. failed to establish and implement a written respiratory protection program with work site specific procedures, did not assess the presence of – or possibility of – other workplace hazards to determine if personal protective equipment was required. OSHA also found the company failed to implement a written hazard communication program.
The agency issued Arizona Traders Co. serious citations in September 2011 and repeat citations in August 2012 for also failing to provide employees a suitable facility for quick drenching of the eyes and body. In September 2012, the company received serious citations for failing to conduct a workplace hazard assessment and lacking required hazard communications.
"Arizona Traders Co. continues to ignore its responsibility to protect employees working with dangerous chemicals from potentially serious injuries, including permanent eye damage and possibly sight loss," said OSHA Area Director Diego Alvarado in El Paso, Texas. "This company must change the way it operates and make workplace safety a priority before a tragedy occurs. Arizona Traders’ failure to do so is troubling to say the least."
Incorporated in 1973, Arizona Traders Co. provides gold, silver and nickel plating services at its El Paso facility.
Complaint Filed Against Denka Performance Elastomer’s Carcinogenic Air Pollution
Recently, EPA, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint under Section 303 of the Clean Air Act against Denka Performance Elastomer, LLC (Denka) to compel Denka to significantly reduce hazardous chloroprene emissions from its neoprene manufacturing facility in LaPlace, Louisiana. The complaint asserts that the LaPlace plant’s operations present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare due to the cancer risks from Denka’s chloroprene emissions.  
“We allege that Denka’s emissions have led to unsafe concentrations of carcinogenic chloroprene near homes and schools in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The Justice Department’s environmental justice efforts require ensuring that every community, no matter its demographics, can breathe clean air and drink clean water. Our suit aims to stop Denka’s dangerous pollution.”
“When I visited Saint John the Baptist Parish during my first Journey to Justice tour, I pledged to the community that EPA would take strong action to protect the health and safety of families from harmful chloroprene emissions from the Denka facility,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This complaint filed against Denka delivers on that promise. The company has not moved far enough or fast enough to reduce emissions or ensure the safety of the surrounding community. This action is not the first step we have taken to reduce risks to the people living in Saint John the Baptist Parish, and it will not be the last.”
Denka’s facility manufactures neoprene, a flexible, synthetic rubber used to produce common goods like wetsuits, beverage cozies, laptop sleeves, orthopedic braces, and automotive belts and hoses. Chloroprene is a liquid raw material used to produce neoprene and is emitted into the air from various areas at the facility.
According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, air monitoring – conducted by both the EPA and Denka over the past several years – consistently shows long-term chloroprene concentrations in the air near Denka’s LaPlace facility that are as high as 14 times the levels recommended for a 70-year lifetime of exposure. This complaint seeks to compel Denka to eliminate the public health endangerment caused by its emissions by greatly reducing the levels of chloroprene to which this community is being exposed.
In 2010, EPA published its peer-reviewed assessment of chloroprene that concluded the chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” According to guidance that looks at impacts of certain cancer-causing chemicals to children, EPA also acknowledged that children accumulate excess lifetime cancer risk from breathing chloroprene faster than adults. Approximately 20% of the total population living within two-and-a-half miles of Denka are children under the age of 18, and about 800 to 1,000 children are under the age of five. Children are particularly vulnerable to carcinogens like chloroprene because they change DNA and harm cells, meaning they are “mutagenic.” Denka’s chloroprene’s emissions reach more than 300 young children who attend the 5th Ward Elementary School, located within approximately 450 feet of Denka’s facility. Approximately 1,200 children who attend East St. John High School, located roughly a mile-and-a-half north of Denka, are also exposed to the facility’s chloroprene emissions.
EPA Announces Enforcement Actions to Control Hydrofluorocarbon Imports
The EPA recently announced several enforcement actions that support national and international goals to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the fight against climate change. These civil penalty actions include three landmark settlements with HFC importers who failed to report their imported quantities in violation of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program: Artsen Chemical America, LLC ($247,601 penalty), Harp USA, Inc. ($275,000 penalty), and the IGas Companies ($382,473 penalty). EPA is aggressively pursuing similar actions against several other importers that failed to report their HFCs.
EPA also recently issued the first notices of violation (NOVs) under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act) to alleged violators who imported regulated substances without required allowances. Under the AIM Act, importers are required to expend allowances to import HFCs. Compliance with the allowance system is critical to assuring the success of the United States’ HFC phasedown program. Illegal imports undermine the phasedown, disadvantage companies who follow the rules, and contribute to global warming.
Stopping illegal HFC imports is a top priority of a federal interagency task force that includes EPA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In fiscal year 2022, the task force prevented illegal HFC imports equal to more than 889,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This equates to the carbon dioxide released from powering 173,000 homes with electricity for a year.
HFCs are commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. Released to the atmosphere, HFCs can have a climate impact thousands of times stronger than carbon dioxide. Enforcement of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program demonstrates the Biden Administration’s commitment to address HFCs and protect our climate. The United States agreed under the bipartisan AIM Act to phasedown HFC production and consumption by 85% by 2036, consistent with the international HFC phasedown laid out in the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Global efforts to phase down HFCs are expected to avoid up to 0.5 °C of global warming by 2100. Accurate reporting of HFCs helps set sound policy and going forward under the HFC phasedown will allow the United States to verify we are meeting the limits under the AIM Act.
More information on the settlements and outstanding NOVs can be found at: Enforcement of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program: HFC Importers | US EPA. More information on the AIM Act NOVs can be found at: Enforcement of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 | US EPA.
Learn more about the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program here: Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. For more information on the EPA’s actions to address HFCs, visit: Protecting Our Climate by Reducing Use of HFCs.
EPA Announces Most Energy-Efficient Manufacturing Plants of 2022
EPA recently announced that 86 U.S. manufacturing plants earned the agency’s ENERGY STAR certification in 2022, a designation reserved for manufacturing plants in the top 25% of energy efficiency in their sector. Together, these plants saved over 105 trillion British thermal units (Btus) of energy and prevented more than 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the emissions from the electricity use of more than 1.1 million American homes.
“Industrial leadership in energy efficiency is critical to achieving our nation’s climate goals,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The savings from ENERGY STAR certified plants demonstrate how energy efficiency is both helping our manufacturing sector reduce costs and propelling America’s transition to a clean energy future.”
The industrial sector accounts for 30% of U.S. greenhouse emissions, primarily from energy use in manufacturing plants. ENERGY STAR certified plants have reduced their energy consumption through a variety of energy efficiency projects and management practices. For example:
  • Primient’s Loudon, Tenn., and Lafayette, Ind., wet corn mills reduced their CO2e emissions by installing and optimizing combined heat and power systems.
  • Ash Grove's Seattle, Wash., cement plant automated the support equipment in their grinding mills to cease operation when the mills do.
  • Astra Zeneca’s Newark, Del., pharmaceutical plant installed a heat recovery system that reduced natural gas usage by approximately 20% and a heat exchanger that provides free chilled water during winter months.
  • General Motors’ Fort Wayne, Ind., auto assembly plant recovered waste heat from the engine jackets and exhausts ducts of its landfill gas cogeneration units, reducing the plant’s winter natural gas consumption. Additionally, the company’s Flint, Mich., assembly plant updated more than 90% of its lighting, installed light emitting diodes (LEDs) with motion sensors to decrease light levels after a period of inactivity, and continued to focus on reducing energy during non-production periods.
  • Nissan North America’s Canton, Miss., vehicle assembly plant formed a team to track compressed air leaks, leading to an annual reduction of approximately 1,700 cubic feet per minute of compressed air. The company’s Decherd, Tenn., powertrain assembly plant created scorecards to benchmark the shutdown performance of facilities, assigned countermeasures to shops not meeting targets, and provided recognition to top performers.
  • Titan America’s Troutville, Va., and Medley, Fla., cement plants have completely converted production to Portland Limestone (Type IL) cement, with up to 15% less embodied carbon than standard Portland Cement. Since 2015 the two plants also have achieved a 12% reduction in electricity use and an 18% reduction in CO2, respectively, from improved energy management.
  • Cemex’s Miami, Fla., cement plant increased its energy performance in 2022 by modifying a finish mill, optimizing the ball charge on the largest mill, and identifying and correcting potential energy losses while also increasing the production of Portland Limestone (Type IL) cement.
Manufacturing plants use EPA’s ENERGY STAR energy performance indicators or, in the case of petroleum refineries, the Solomon Associates Energy Intensity Index scoring system to assess their energy performance. Plants that score a 75 out of 100 or higher — indicating that they are more energy efficient than 75% of similar facilities nationwide — are eligible to earn ENERGY STAR certification. ENERGY STAR certification is available for 20 manufacturing sectors, from cement and steel to glass and commercial bakeries.
Scientific Basis for EPA’s Definition of PFAS Still Missing
After months of litigation, the EPA has yet to produce any documents revealing the scientific basis for the “working definition” the agency currently uses for regulatory purposes, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This working definition is far narrower than those being adopted by other countries, states, or even used by other branches of EPA.
In June 2021, EPA unveiled a new “working definition” for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that differed markedly from definitions used by other entities. At the time, EPA offered no scientific explanation or justification for this new definition.
In October of that year, PEER submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents that would shed light on the scientific antecedents of this new definition – a definition which would leave thousands of PFAS unregulated.
EPA ultimately produced approximately 2,500 pages of documents that did not answer the question. By June 2022, PEER filed suit under FOIA demanding complete production.
EPA’s current working definition leaves many toxic and persistent PFAS beyond federal control.
It stands in stark contrast with the far more inclusive definitions moving toward adoption in the European Union to ban 10,000 PFAS variations and in Canada to regulate PFAS as a class. It is also substantially narrower than the definition EPA uses for research purposes and non-regulatory estimates.
EPA’s slowness to act has prompted several states to take their own regulatory actions on PFAS. Strikingly, none of those state definitions are as narrow as the one now being used by EPA.
The U.S. EPA’s decision to approach PFAS on a chemical-by-chemical basis also does not address the fact that many PFAS can degrade into terminal end products that are themselves PFAS.
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