Apr 17, 2019

The rise of Candida auris embodies a serious and growing public health threat: drug-resistant germs.

(NewYorkTimes) Last May, an elderly man was admitted to the Brooklyn branch of Mount Sinai Hospital for abdominal surgery. A blood test revealed that he was infected with a newly discovered germ as deadly as it was mysterious. Doctors swiftly isolated him in the intensive care unit.

The germ, a fungus called Candida auris, preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the last five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa.

Recently C. auris reached New York, New Jersey and Illinois, leading the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add it to a list of germs deemed "urgent threats."

Read full: NewYorkTimes

Apr 12, 2019

Post Fukushima - 23 countries still have bans on food imports from Japan because of the nuclear incident.

In 2015, the Japanese government filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Japan said all the seafood it ships is safe because it meets strict standards on radioactive substances.

Japan called South Korea's actions unfair and discriminatory.

A WTO dispute panel supported Japan in February last year and recommended South Korea correct its restrictions.

South Korea appealed that decision.

According to Japan's Agriculture Ministry, a total of 23 countries and territories still have bans on food imports from Japan because of the nuclear incident.


Apr 10, 2019

U.S. Green Building Council Launches LEED v4.1

On April 2,  the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that the new version of the LEED green building program – LEED v4.1 – is now available for cities, communities and homes. According to USGBS, LEED v4.1 certification recognizes leadership by emphasizing performance monitoring, fully integrated design, social equity and human health factors.

Green building standards and codes contain specific restrictions and indoor air quality requirements for paint, coatings, adhesives, and sealants. LEED is one of the most prominent green building standards, alongside the International Green Construction Code, also known as the International Code Council (IgCC). Although LEED is the most dominant rating system in the United States, there is growing competition among rating systems, heightened by an interest in environmentally-friendly building materials. The implementation of these standards by jurisdictions and individuals are driving down volatile organic compound (VOC) limits. There are further efforts toward mandatory emissions testing for interior products to improve indoor air quality and the restriction of chemicals used in building materials.

The updated LEED v4.1, builds on new methodologies for measuring building performance. This includes changes to the Material and Resources (MR) categories and the Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) categories. The VOC Content standards for adhesives and sealants were updated to the most recent South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1168. Points for low-emitting materials are now awarded on a scale based on the number of product categories that meet the requirements. The emission evaluation requirement for Paints, Coatings, Adhesives, and Sealants has been reduced to 75% from 90%. There have also been weighting changes for how environmental product declarations are counted under the new v4.1.  These are a few of the changes made under the new rating system which will impact how member companies can maximize LEED credits to their products. The smaller green building standard WELL, has released WELL V2 the Association will continue to track the standard and comment when applicable. The intent of this update was to more align with LEED where possible.

For the residential market, LEED v4.1 combines the familiar and relevant aspects from four previously-existing LEED for homes rating systems (LEED for Low-rise homes, LEED for Midrise Homes, LEED for Core and Shell and LEED for New Construction) to deliver three rating systems – LEED v4.1 Residential: New Single-family homes, LEED v4.1 Residential: New Multifamily homes and LEED v4.1 New Multifamily homes core and shell. According the USGBC, the updated rating system is designed to make the decision to implement LEED easier for residential projects and revitalize the council's approach to the housing market.

For the LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities rating systems, LEED v4.1 expands on the earlier performance based approach to deliver a comprehensive framework to support plan, design, operation and performance management phases of both new and existing cities and communities. The rating systems align with all the UN Sustainable Development Goals and incorporate leadership standards and best practices from complementary systems, like the previously integrated STAR Community Rating System, as well as the PEERTRUEEDGE and SITES programs. According to USGBC, More than 90 cities and communities around the world, representing more than 45 million people, are LEED-certified based on several factors, including water efficiency, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, materials and resources, quality of life, innovation and regional priorities.

Update: Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule

In response to a number of Supreme Court cases that have complicated what constitutes WOTUS, or the "waters of the United States," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers pursued a rulemaking during 2014 and 2015 to revise the regulatory definition of WOTUS. In May 2015, EPA released the final WOTUS rule which disregarded many concerns expressed by industry, including ACA. The 2015 WOTUS rule gave the federal government jurisdiction over some of the smallest waterways in the country, including authority over smaller bodies of water that EPA doesn't already regulate. Since promulgation, the 2015 WOTUS rule was subject to extensive litigation leading up to the eventual stay of the 2015 rule by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

On February 28, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13778 which directed EPA and the Army Corps to review and rescind or revise the 2015 WOTUS rule. As a result, EPA and the Army Corps initiated a comprehensive, two-step process intended to repeal (step one) and revise (step two) the definition of WOTUS.

Since then, the agencies issued three rulemakings pertaining to step one of the process that attempt to: (1) repeal the 2015 WOTUS definition, (2) recodify of the pre-2015 WOTUS definition and regulation, and (3) delay the effective date of the 2015 WOTUS rule to provide additional time and regulatory certainty while the agencies complete their two-step process. These efforts were met with legal action by various entities, though, and several district courts ruled that the agencies did not follow proper procedures to delay implementation of the 2015 WOTUS rule. On March 8, 2019, the Trump administration abandoned its bid to use the courts to delay implementation of the 2015 WOTUS rule. This means that the 2015 WOTUS rule will remain in effect for the foreseeable future in more than 20 states across the country (the other states do not have to follow the 2015 rule because of prior legal rulings in their jurisdictions). Additionally, on March 26, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio didn't grant an injunction sought by Ohio and Tennessee that would have effectively nullified the 2015 WOTUS definition. According to the judge, those states couldn't substantiate claims that the rule's enforcement would cause irreparable harm to the states.

Despite this setback, EPA and the Army Corps still intend to proceed with their two-step process to repeal and revise the definition of WOTUS through regulatory action. The agencies' June 2018 proposed rule to repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule in its entirety and recodify the pre-2015 regulation is still slated to be finalized sometime in mid-2019. Also, in anticipation of this final rule, EPA and the Army Corps published a proposed rule in February 2019 that formally initiated step two of their process which revises the definition of WOTUS. Of note, the agencies are proposing a baseline concept that "waters of the United States" are waters within the ordinary meaning of the term, such as oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands, and that not all waters are "waters of the United States."

EPA Publishes List of 40 Chemicals for Prioritization Review under Amended TSCA

On March 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register its list of 40 candidate chemicals for high and low priority under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The list designates 20 high priority and 20 low priority candidates. Several of the high priority chemicals are used in the manufacture of paints, coatings, sealants or adhesives.

EPA must complete the 9-month prioritization process and begin risk evaluations by December 22, 2019.

Under the amended TSCA and related implementing regulations, EPA is required to prioritize 20 chemical substances as candidates for designation as High Priority Substances for risk evaluation and 20 chemical substances as candidates for designation as Low Priority Substances for risk evaluation.

EPA is accepting comments and information germane to the chemical substances through June 19, 2019. EPA is seeking information about the following:

  • The chemical substance's hazard and exposure potential;
  • The chemical substance's persistence and bioaccumulation;
  • Potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations which the submitter believes are relevant to the prioritization;
  • Whether there is any storage of the chemical substance near significant sources of drinking water, including the storage facility location and the nearby drinking water source(s);
  • The chemical substance's conditions of use or significant changes in conditions of use, including information regarding trade names;
  • The chemical substance's production volume or significant changes in production volume; and
  • Any other information relevant to the potential risks of the chemical substance that might be relevant to the designation of the chemical substance's priority for risk evaluation.

Update: AIM VOC Rulemakings in New York, Colorado and California

Colorado and New York are proposing to adopt the Northeast Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) Phase II model rule limiting volatile organic compound (VOC) content for AIM (Architectural and Industrial Maintenance) coatings. In addition, the OTC states will likely begin working on the OTC Phase III AIM model rule in the next year or two, which will be based on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) AIM Suggested Control Measure (SCM) that is likely to be adopted in May 2019.

On Jan. 11, 2019, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment proposed to adopt the OTC Phase II AIM model rule for Colorado. Given that Colorado is currently complying with the federal AIM Rule limits combined with potential climate concerns with the mountainous portions of the state, ACA suggested Colorado instead adopt the more reasonable OTC Phase I Aim model rule limits, or at least first adopt the OTC Phase I limits and then phase in the OTC Phase II limits after two years. Notably, Colorado intends to adopt the AIM rule in July 2019 and include a May 1, 2019 compliance date in its final rule. ACA typically requests at least a one-year compliance date to allow manufacturers and users to prepare for the new limits.

On March 6, 2019, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) also proposed to adopt the OTC II AIM model rule. However, the NYSDEC is also proposing to potentially eliminate the small container exemption and provide only a two-year sell through; every other AIM rule includes at least a three-year sell through period. ACA is preparing comments for NYSDEC's comment deadline of May 20. The department will conduct public hearings on its proposal on May 6, 13 and 14.

As aforementioned, CARB is scheduled to adopt a new AIM coatings SCM in May 2019. The SCM is important since the various California Air Districts will use it to develop their future AIM rule revisions. In addition, the OTC states will likely utilize the SCM in the development of the OTC Phase III AIM model rule in the next year or so.

Apr 9, 2019

A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy

" In the United States, two million people contract resistant infections annually, and 23,000 die from them, according to the official C.D.C. estimate. That number was based on 2010 figures; more recent estimates from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine put the death toll at 162,000. Worldwide fatalities from resistant infections are estimated at 700,000."

Last May, an elderly man was admitted to the Brooklyn branch of Mount Sinai Hospital for abdominal surgery. A blood test revealed that he was infected with a newly discovered germ as deadly as it was mysterious. Doctors swiftly isolated him in the intensive care unit.

The germ, a fungus called Candida auris, preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the last five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa.

Recently C. auris reached New York, New Jersey and Illinois, leading the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add it to a list of germs deemed "urgent threats."

...Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it.

"Everything was positive — the walls, the bed, the doors, the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump," said Dr. Scott Lorin, the hospital's president. "The mattress, the bed rails, the canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was positive."

C. auris is so tenacious, in part, because it is impervious to major antifungal medications, making it a new example of one of the world's most intractable health threats: the rise of drug-resistant infections.

Read full at NY Times:

Apr 8, 2019

Giant Daily Drivers and Cellphones have U.S. Pedestrian Deaths Still Climbing

According to the National Highway Association, 6,227 people were killed on the road last year, more than any year since 1990. The upward trend in pedestrian deaths started at the beginning of this decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Bigger cars and distractions from cellphones are two leading causes of this growing problem.

Read full at:

Apr 5, 2019

OSHA's Occupational Medicine Resident Elective

The Office of Occupational Medicine and Nursing (OOMN) in OSHA serves as an instructional site for current resident physicians who are receiving training in occupational and environmental medicine, general preventive medicine, and aerospace medicine. At any time throughout the year, OOMN may host up to four resident physicians for an eight week training rotation. Future occupational and preventive medicine leaders have the opportunity to fully participate in OOMN activities and will also receive an organized series of lectures and presentations on the clinical and administrative aspects of occupational medicine. OOMN staff members have participated on the Residency Advisory Committees of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, The University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Apr 3, 2019

OSHA’s new webpage Available on Radiation Emergencies

SHA's new webpage on radiation emergency preparedness is intended to help protect the health and safety of workers during situations ranging from small, isolated incidents in laboratories to potentially catastrophic radiation releases at nuclear facilities. The webpage also provides resources on health and safety planning, medical monitoring and dosimetry, and other relevant topics.

Apr 2, 2019

DOE Announces Up to $26.1 Million to Advance Hydropower and Marine Energy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons announced up to $26.1 million in funding to drive innovative industry-led technology solutions to advance the marine and hydrokinetics (MHK) industry and increase hydropower's ability to serve as a flexible grid resource. The Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) will select projects that aim to increase affordability of hydropower and marine energy, strengthen U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and build on Department-wide energy storage initiatives to improve the capability of technologies to deliver value to the grid.    

"This opportunity is critical to advancing new water technologies that harness energy from our nation's rivers and oceans," said Assistant Secretary Simmons. "By supporting early-stage research and development, these next-generation water power technologies have the potential to reduce energy costs for American consumers and significantly increase the reliability of our electricity system."

Area of Interest One: Hydropower Operational Flexibility

Hydropower has significant capabilities for flexible operation, making it well-positioned to contribute to system reliability and resilience in an evolving electricity system. Today, the complexity of multi-use constraints affects many hydropower plants, and together with the wide variability in plant configurations across the fleet, understanding the fleet's potential for flexibility is a formidable challenge. This area seeks to quantify the flexible capabilities of hydropower and advance operational strategies to increase such flexibility to better serve an evolving grid.

  • Area of Interest (AOI) 1a, Quantify Hydropower Capabilities for Operational Flexibility, seeks a comprehensive framework to catalog and account for the different types of flexibility that hydropower plants can provide.

  • AOI 1b, Operational Strategies for Increasing Hydropower Flexibility, seeks research and development of operational strategies that enable enhanced provision of flexibility services at individual hydropower plants or combinations of plants within the fleet.

Area of Interest Two: Low Head Hydropower and In-Stream Hydrokinetic Technologies

Low-head hydropower and hydrokinetic river current energy converter (CEC) technologies have the potential to generate a significant amount of electricity from the nation's rivers and to support the resiliency of the U.S. electricity system. The WPTO will provide funding in this area of interest to projects that focus on the development of two types of technologies – standard modular hydropower (SMH) and current energy converters (CEC). CEC technologies extract kinetic energy from rivers without the need for a dam or diversion, whereas SMH technologies use dams or other structures with turbines to create head — differences in water elevation — and generate power.

  • AOI 2a Modular Technologies for Low-Head Hydropower Applications will focus on the design and production of entirely new standardized, modular hydropower technologies for low-head applications (30 feet or less).

  • AOI 2b, Modular Technologies for River Current Energy Converter Applications focuses on developing and testing CEC systems that can be efficiently deployed and retrieved without the need for significant port or on-site infrastructure and specialized vessels.

Area of Interest Three: Advancing Wave Energy Device Design

Marine renewable energy technologies, like wave energy converters (WEC), are still at early stages of development and require thorough design, prototyping, and testing before deployment. The WPTO will provide funding in this area of interest to projects that will drive performance improvements in WEC devices in preparation for open-water testing where wave energy has the greatest energy capture potential and lowest unit costs.

Area of Interest Four: Marine Energy Centers Research Infrastructure Upgrades

Advancing technologies towards commercialization requires ongoing testing at all levels of technological development. The limited availability of testing facilities with proper infrastructure equipped to create real-world wave and current environments to fully characterize their performance and reliability of prototypes is a challenge for the industry. The WPTO will provide funding in this area of interest to projects funded under this area of interest to upgrade necessary infrastructure at existing National Marine Renewable Energy Centers (NMRECs) to enable broader industry access and reduce technical barriers to incubating advanced marine and hydrokinetic technologies.

For more information on water power research, development, and testing please visit EERE Water Power Technology Office's website.

Apr 1, 2019

Trader Joe’s Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics Nationwide Following Customer Petition

By Madison Dapcevich

As the world suffocates from its plastic addiction, a growing number of businesses are stepping up to the plate to reduce their plastic waste. Most recently, Trader Joe's announced that it will be taking steps to cut back on plastic and other packaging waste after a petition launched by Greenpeace harnessed nearly 100,000 signatures.

At the end of last year, the company announced several improvements geared towards making packaging more sustainable in an effort to eliminate more than 1 million pounds of plastic from stores. Already, the retailer has stopped offering single-use plastic carryout bags nationwide and is replacing plastic produce bags and Styrofoam meat trays with biodegradable and compostable options.

"As a neighborhood grocery store, we feel it is important for us to be the great neighbor our customers deserve. Part of that means better managing our environmental impact," Kenya Friend-Daniel, public relations director for Trader Joe's, told EcoWatch in an email. "As we recently shared with our customers, we are working to reduce the amount of packaging in our stores and while we have made a number of positive changes in this space, the world is ongoing."

Each year, enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth a whopping four times. Despite that, just one-quarter of plastics produced in the U.S. is recycled even though recycling plastic takes 88 percent less energy than making it from raw materials. If just three-quarters of plastics were recycled, the Recycling Coalition of Utah says people could save an estimated 1 billion gallons of oil and 44 million cubic yards of landfill space annually.

"Every minute of every single day the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. Not only are these plastics hurting or killing marine animals, they are impacting all of us through our seafood, sea salt, tap water, and even the air we breathe," Greenpeace U.S.A. plastics campaigner David Pinsky told EcoWatch. "We know that we can't recycle our way out of this crisis, as only 9 percent of the plastics ever made have actually been recycled."

In recent years, a number of companies have taken the lead in reducing plastic waste, including United Kingdom food retailer A.S.D.A., who plans to remove single-use cups and cutlery this year. McDonald's says that 100 percent of its packaging will come from renewable, recycled or certified sustainable sources within the next seven years while water company Evian plans to go carbon neutral and plastic free by 2020. It's a solid start in battling the so-called "war on plastics," one that Trader Joe's says is just a small part of its "never-ending work."

Indeed, plastic has been found on every continent – including Antarctica – and at the bottom of the world's deepest waters.

"For far too long, corporations have deflected blame and made the issue of plastics about individual responsibility, but it's time for the world's largest corporations and retailers to show some accountability. The only way we are going to tackle this crisis is by pressuring corporations and governments to move away from throwaway plastics for good, and toward systems of reuse," said Pinsky.