Dec 31, 2016
(WIRED) ...Even a few thousand gallons of spilled oil is consequential. Even more consequential are more than 30,000 of those so-called small spills each year. Which is probably the bare minimum spill estimate, says Manthos of SkyTruth. Really, it's hard to know if this figure is complete, and even harder to calculate the volume of oil being leaked. Some new oil equipment is smart enough to know when, and measure how much, it leaks. But those sensors can malfunction. Plus most oil infrastructure is way older. Most of the time oil companies, activists, and the US Coast Guard are all doing some version of educated guessing.
The volumes that oil companies and others do calculate and report get compiled in a National Response Center database. And if you ask an oil lobbyist, it all totals to about one million gallons per year. And those oil company-provided numbers are what the US Coast Guard relies on to levy fines against those that spill. Which is a problem, because oil companies have a financial incentive to lowball the spill estimates, because the fines levied against them often triple if they cross that major spill threshold. "It's the fox watching the henhouse," Manthos says.
At SkyTruth, Manthos uses satellite imagery and remote sensing data to get a much more definitive picture of spill size and color than you can get from sticking your head out of a helicopter door. "We make an estimate and compare it to estimate they submit, and they usually don't add up," he says. "An environmentally concerned person might have a tendency to overreport. If the report comes from someone working on a oil platform, those volumes are frequently underreported." And does not account for the many spills that go unnoticed somewhere along the 2.4 million miles of oil pipe in the United States. "There's so much infrastructure and no one monitoring it," says Jonathan Henderson, founder and president of environmental watchdog organization Vanishing Earth. "It's impossible to say how much damage is being done."
Not for lack of trying. When SkyTruth contributed to a study comparing oil companies' estimates to more objective satellite data, they found that on average, the volume of oil spilled is at least 13 times higher than reported—Thirteen million gallons is more than an Exxon Valdez per year. And oil companies don't need to be accurate. "There are penalties for not reporting something that you should have seen," Manthos says. "But no penalties for underreporting."
The Coast Guard's self-defense on these enforcement matters isn't too convincing. "The Coast Guard would likely seek enforcement action," says Lieutenant Katie Braynard. She would not comment more specifically.
Aging Infrastructure and Poor RegulationAmerican oil infrastructure is old. On this map, each dot represents a still-standing platform or rig. The lighter the dot, the older the construction. The oldest date back to the 1960s. You can click on a rig to see the installation date.
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Dec 20, 2016
Dec 15, 2016
Fastidious Recycling Has Unusual Drawbacks
Don't Trash It, Repair It!
Dec 14, 2016
USA TODAY — The leaders of this former oil boomtown never gave 2-year-old Adam Walton a chance to avoid the poison.
It came in city water, delivered to his family's tap through pipes nearly a century old. For almost a year, the little boy bathed in lead-tainted water and ate food cooked in it. As he grew into a toddler — when he should have been learning to talk — he drank tap water containing a toxin known to ravage a child's developing brain.
Adam's parents didn't know about the danger until this fall.
Officials at City Hall knew long before then, according to local and state records. So did state and federal government regulators who are paid to make sure drinking water in Texas and across the nation is clean. Ranger and Texas officials were aware of a citywide lead problem for two years -- one the city still hasn't fixed and one the Waltons first learned about in a September letter to residents. The city and state even knew, from recent tests, that water in the Walton family's cramped, one-bedroom rental house near the railroad tracks was carrying sky-high levels of lead.
Destiny and John Walton got their first inkling of a problem when blood tests in June detected high levels of lead in their son's growing body. They first learned that their tap water contained lead — about 28 times the federal limit — when a USA TODAY Network reporter told them in early November.
Millions of Americans face similar risks because the nation's drinking-water enforcement system doesn't make small utilities play by the same safety rules as everyone else, a USA TODAY Network investigation has found.
Tiny utilities - those serving only a few thousand people or less - don't have to treat water to prevent lead contamination until after lead is found. Even when they skip safety tests or fail to treat water after they find lead, federal and state regulators often do not force them to comply with the law.
USA TODAY Network journalists spent 2016 reviewing millions of records from the Environmental Protection Agency and all 50 states, visiting small communities across the country and interviewing more than 120 people stuck using untested or lead-tainted tap water.
The investigation found:
- About 100,000 people get their drinking water from utilities that discovered high lead but failed to treat the water to remove it. Dozens of utilities took more than a year to formulate a treatment plan and even longer to begin treatment.
- Some 4 million Americans get water from small operators who skipped required tests or did not conduct the tests properly, violating a cornerstone of federal safe drinking water laws. The testing is required because, without it, utilities, regulators and people drinking the water can't know if it's safe. In more than 2,000 communities, lead tests were skipped more than once. Hundreds repeatedly failed to properly test for five or more years.
- About 850 small water utilities with a documented history of lead contamination — places where state and federal regulators are supposed to pay extra attention — have failed to properly test for lead at least once since 2010.
This two-tiered system exists in both law and practice. State and federal water-safety officials told USA TODAY Network reporters that regulators are more lenient with small water systems because they lack resources, deeming some lost causes when they don't have the money, expertise or motivation to fix problems. The nation's Safe Drinking Water Act allows less-trained, often amateur, people to operate tiny water systems even though the risks for people drinking the water are the same.
4 MILLION LIVING WITH AN UNKNOWN
A cornerstone of those 25-year-old lead regulations is testing. But the USA TODAY Network found that 9,000 small water systems together serving almost 4 million people failed to test properly for lead in the past six years, meaning the toxin could be there without anyone knowing. More than a quarter of those systems had repeat lead-testing violations.
EPA acknowledges it gives higher priority to immediate public health issues like acute contamination than testing violations.
Money is a factor in skipping lead tests, which can cost around $50 per tap. Utilities must test from five to 20 locations, depending on how many customers they serve. A USA TODAY Network analysis found it would cost about $1.2 million to check the water served by every small utility that failed to test twice since 2010. Lead testing for every small water utility that missed even one test would cost around $5 million.
Read full at: USA TODAY
Dec 13, 2016
U.S. EPA Releases Final Report on Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities on Drinking Water Resources
EPA's report concludes that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances and identifies factors that influence these impacts
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing its scientific report on the impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources, which provides states and others the scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring or being considered. The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps. These uncertainties and data gaps limited EPA's ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources both locally and nationally. These final conclusions are based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources; feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA's Science Advisory Board; input from engaged stakeholders; and new research conducted as part of the study.
"The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation's fragile water resources. EPA's assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities," said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA's Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development. "This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing."
The report is organized around activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and their potential to impact drinking water resources. The stages include: (1) acquiring water to be used for hydraulic fracturing (Water Acquisition), (2) mixing the water with chemical additives to make hydraulic fracturing fluids (Chemical Mixing), (3) injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into the production well to create and grow fractures in the targeted production zone (Well Injection), (4) collecting the wastewater that returns through the well after injection (Produced Water Handling), and (5) managing the wastewater through disposal or reuse methods (Wastewater Disposal and Reuse).
EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.
As part of the report, EPA identified certain conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe, including:
- Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
- Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
- Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and
- Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.
The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.
Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA's ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources both locally and nationally. Generally, comprehensive information on the location of activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle is lacking, either because it is not collected, not publicly available, or prohibitively difficult to aggregate. In places where we know activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle have occurred, data that could be used to characterize hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals in the environment before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing were scarce. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, as well as others described in the assessment, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.
EPA's final assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement with states, tribes, industry, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, and the public. This broad engagement helped to ensure that the final assessment report reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and uses all data and information available to the agency. This report advances the science. The understanding of the potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources will continue to improve over time as new information becomes available.
For a copy of the study, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy.
Dec 7, 2016
(The Guardian - Bruce Watson) This year, green chemistry celebrates its 25th birthday. The science of finding more sustainable and less toxic chemicals was once a revolutionary idea, but has since become a part of the consumer product landscape. From removing carcinogens from furniture to banning ineffective antibacterial chemicals, the struggle to create a healthier and more sustainable chemical landscape continues to attract widespread attention.
Customers – and companies – are taking note. A recent survey estimates that the global market for green chemicals is on track to grow from $11bn in 2015 to $100bn in 2020. In North America, the numbers are expected to go from $3bn to $20bn in the same period.
Petroleum made in a lab?
Martin Mulvihill, co-founder and former director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and co-founder of Safer Made, a venture capital fund that invests in the latest green chemistry technologies.
"One of the most influential trends has been the move to bio-based feedstocks for chemistry. Historically, chemistry has relied on petroleum based products, which means that we have to extract petroleum from the ground, transport it and process it. As therecent problems with fracking show, that's expensive and environmentally damaging.
"When we're done with these products, they don't biodegrade; instead, they pile up in landfills and in the ocean. It's interesting that people think that our leftover plastic and other products are just going to disappear: fossils fuels are the remains of organic matter that have managed to stay around for millions of years. What makes us think that [plastics] are going to go away just because we're done with them?
"Scientists have begun using microorganisms to biosynthesize materials, which means that, rather than using chemicals that come from oil, we're growing our chemicals in the lab. In the future, it's entirely possible that the basic building blocks of our chemistry will come from biomass, including food and crop waste. In other words, this biotechnology revolution will help us use our waste to make new materials.
"This is one of the most exciting new areas of chemistry, and it provides us with an opportunity to design safer and more sustainable chemicals. Companies like Amyris, BioAmber and Elevance are already commercializing this process, and the next generation of chemists are already beginning to reach for biosynthesized materials, rather than petroleum based ones. It's a vast change, and it's transforming the way we develop and manufacture products."
A BPA-free future
David Levine is the co-founder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council, a coalition of business organizations dedicated to building a more sustainable, less toxic economy.
"The biggest advancement in green chemistry has been a shift in consciousness and practice. The public has become aware of the need for and value of green chemistry and companies have become aware of the economic opportunities that it offers – as well as the danger of not taking advantage of them, which the 2015 report by the American Sustainable Business Council, GC3 and Trucost demonstrate.
"Nalgene's bottle recall in 2008 is a perfect example. The presence of BPA in plastic bottles became a major media story and captured the public's interest. The public demanded action on numerous products, from baby bottles to the water bottles that college students were toting around. Within a year, many companies were changing their production to cut BPA out of their products. And those that didn't watched their reputations – and their market share – evaporate.
"Today, you walk into every store and see 'BPA free' products on the shelves. There are new plants, new advertising, new products. Consumers are demanding products without hazardous chemicals, companies are realizing that they can be responsible, innovate and improve their profits, and regulators and legislators are realizing that they can provide more comprehensive regulations. Green chemistry is providing an opportunity for a stronger economy and a healthier society."
Breathing new life into greenhouse gases
Libby Bernick is senior vice president, North America for Trucost, a research firm that measures the way that companies use natural resources.
"One of the biggest advancements in green chemistry is the growth in manufacturers that are starting to use pollution as a raw material for making their products.
"This is incredibly significant: according to the World Economic Forum, the biggest risk currently facing our society is its failure to mitigate or adapt to climate change. We're continuing to produce greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, which are leading to further climate change that will, in turn, have massive financial implications for the economy.
"But there's another approach that we can take. Instead of looking at methane and carbon dioxide as an inevitable byproduct of manufacturing, companies like Novomerand Newlight are seeing it as an opportunity. They're using it to make new products: Newlight makes a price-competitive plastic, and Novomer makes chemicals that can be used to produce anything from diapers to paints. In so doing, both companies are creating new markets and new economic opportunities."
S. 2852, OPEN Government Data Act - would direct federal agencies to publish all data they collect in an open format that can be used by any computer.
S. 2852 would direct federal agencies to publish all data they collect in an open format that can be used by any computer. Under the bill, the Office of Management and Budget would establish an inventory of all federal data sets and would direct the General Services Administration to maintain an online interface for all such data. In addition, S. 2852 would rename the Office of Electronic Government as the Office of the Federal Chief Financial Officer.
Information from selected agencies suggest that most of the provisions of the bill would codify Executive Order 13642 and other executive branch policies that set the framework for agencies to promote openness and interoperability in information management. That executive order requires agencies to standardize data sets and to make them publicly available. A website (www.data.gov) has been established to share this government information with the general public. CBO expects that implementing S. 2852 would have no significant effect on spending because agencies effectively are already working to implement the requirements of the bill.
(PAINT.ORG) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon publish in the Federal Register a final rule that limits formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products and establishes a process by which companies will use third parties to certify compliance with the formaldehyde emission standards. EPA's announcement follows a four-month long delay since its pre-publication notice on July 27. The pre-publication notice was mostly consistent with 2009 limits that California's Air Resources Board began to phase in. California's limits range from 0.05 part per million (ppm) to 0.13 ppm, depending on the product covered.
According to the agency, the final rule addresses formaldehyde, which can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat following short-term, relatively low exposures. EPA says elevated exposures may cause some cancers.
One year after the rule's publication, composite wood products that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported into the United States will need to be labeled as Title VI compliant under the Toxic Substances Act (TSCA). These products include hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard as well as household and other finished goods containing these products.
The Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directed EPA to finalize a rule on implementing and enforcing a number of provisions covering composite wood products.
Formaldehyde may be released from adhesives that are used in a wide range of wood products, such as some furniture, flooring, cabinets, bookcases, and building materials including plywood and wood panels. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause adverse health effects including eye, nose and throat irritation, other respiratory symptoms, and cancer.
EPA is setting testing requirements to ensure that products comply with those standards, establishing eligibility requirements for third-party certifiers, and establishing eligibility requirements for accreditation bodies to be recognized by EPA that will accredit the third-party certifiers. The new rule includes certain exemptions for products made with ultra-low formaldehyde or no-added formaldehyde resins and new requirements for product labeling, recordkeeping, and enforcement provisions.
Additional provisions, including recordkeeping requirements, apply to importers, distributors and retailers, which includes dealers selling recreational vehicles, mobile homes, and building materials.
There is, however, some variation between the national rule and California's, one of which is that EPA requires recordkeeping for three years compared to California's two-year requirement. EPA is also requiring importers to provide certification of their compliance with the rule within two years, and the agency requires manufacturers to disclose emissions test results to their direct purchasers upon request.
Additionally, companies that make or import laminated hardwood plywood products are not automatically exempt, as they are from California's requirement. Under EPA's final rule, while some laminators will qualify for exemptions, others must comply within seven years.
The nonprofit National Safety Council, an OSHA Alliance participant, is accepting nominations for its Green Cross Awards for Safety, which recognize people and organizations who have contributed to the advancement of safety. NSC will accept nominations through Dec. 9 in the following three categories:Safety Excellence, Safety Innovation, and Safety Advocate.
As a complement to its recommended practices to help employers in general industry establish safety and health programs in their workplaces, OSHA has released Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction. The recommendations may be particularly helpful to small- and medium-sized contractors who may not have safety and health specialists on staff. The goal of safety and health programs is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths as well as the financial difficulties these events can cause for workers, their families and their employers. For more information, see the news release.
Twenty-three workers have been killed and 12 others injured in trench collapses so far in 2016 – an alarming increase from the previous year. "There is no excuse," said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA assistant secretary. "These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know."
Among the victims was a 33-year-old employee, crushed to death this summer as he dug a 12-foot trench for KRW Plumbing LLC of Ohio. An OSHA investigation found that KRW failed to protect its workers from the dangers of trench collapses. The company was issued two willful and two serious violations, with proposed penalties of $274,359.
OSHA's trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, with soil and other materials kept at least two feet from the edge of trench. OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations with the goal of increasing hazard awareness and employer compliance with safety standards. For more information, read thenews release.