Sustained Outrage

CSB won’t investigate West Virginia chlorine leak

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The answer to yesterday’s question — will the CSB investigate the Axiall Corp. chlorine leak — is a apparently a resounding “no.”

We’ve not gotten a response from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s press office yet, but here’s the tweet from one of the board members:

Interestingly, board member Kristen Kulinowski also reported via Twitter that the CSB would be deploying to this incident in Cantonment, Florida:

One person was killed as a major explosion ripped through the Airgas facility next to the Ascend Performance Materials plant on Old Chemstrand Road in Cantonment just after noon Sunday. There were no other injuries or fatalities.

About 12:15 p.m., multiple agencies from across Escambia County responded to the Airgas facility. First responders reported a major explosion with an area of significant structural collapse. The area was described a “mini-war zone”.

The gas that exploded was nitrous oxide, some of which was released into the atmosphere but did not pose any threat to the public. There were no gasses or chemicals released outside the industrial facility. There were no evacuations or shelter in place orders issued for residents living near the plant.

Will the CSB investigate Axiall chlorine leak?

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CVP_4420

 

Current CSB Board Members: , Board Member Kristen Kulinowski Ph.D., Board Member Manuel “Manny” EhrlichChairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland and Board Member Rick Engler

Not so long ago, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board took a pass on investigating a significant incident — one that injured 11 workers — at the Axiall Corp. chemical plant in northern West Virginia, site of Saturday’s huge chlorine leak. The CSB refused to look into the incident, despite it being just one in a recent string of problems at the facility (see here and here).

So on Saturday, I asked if the CSB was going to deploy to Natrium and look into this chlorine leak. Two days later, the board still hasn’t decided — and really didn’t provide much of an official response to my query.

This morning I tweeted about the CSB’s relative silence on the matter:

That prompted this response from one of the board members:

That certainly seemed odd — for the CSB to wonder if it had jurisdiction — given that it has investigated similar incidents before at Honeywell and DCP Enterprises (see here and here).

When I inquired about that, board member Kulinowski responded on Twitter:

Our discussion continued:

Hopefully, we’ll learn sometime soon what the CSB decides about the Axiall leak.

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As residents of Marshall and Wetzel counties fled or took shelter to protect themselves from a chlorine cloud that spewed into the air Saturday from the Axiall Corp. chemical plant at Natrium, it was impossible not to remember a long-ago and never-implemented recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that West Virginia officials do more to try to ensure public safety from such incidents.

It was eight years ago Sunday that the fatal explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant out in Institute prompted the CSB investigation that led to this recommendation to the state Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Environmental Protection:

Work with the Director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to ensure the successful planning, fee collection, and implementation of the Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program as described in Recommendation 2008-08-WV-R6, above, including the provision of services to all eligible facilities in the State.

That Recommendation 2008-08-WV-6 part refers to this recommendation to the local health department:

Establish a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program to enhance the prevention of accidental releases of highly hazardous chemicals, and optimize responses in the event of their occurrence. In establishing the program, study and evaluate the possible applicability of the experience of similar programs in the country.

Readers may recall that state officials basically ignored this recommendation for a couple of years, until that troublesome chemical spill over on the Elk River that contaminated drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of residents. When that happened, we published this story in the Gazette:

Three years ago this month, a team of federal experts urged the state of West Virginia to help the Kanawha Valley create a new program to prevent hazardous chemical accidents.The U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommended the step after its extensive investigation of the August 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute. Since then, the proposal has gone nowhere.

When lawmakers, under pressure following the Freedom Industries spill, passed legislation responding to the incident, they tucked this onto the mandate for a new Public Water System Supply Study Commission:

A review and consideration of the recommendations of the U. S. Chemical Safety and Hazard and Investigation Board after its investigation of the Bayer CropScience incident of 2008.

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Nitro Dioxin Map

 

There was an interesting — and potentially important — advertisement in today’s Gazette-Mail from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s what it said:

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the EE/CA presenting the Preferred Alternative for addressing dioxin contaminated sediment in the Kanawha River between RM 31.1 (Winfield Locks and Dam) and RM 45.5 (confluence of the Coal River).

The Preferred Alternative for the Site is identified in the EE/CA as Alternative 4 – limited armored capping of sediment, monitored natural recovery, and institutional controls.

Here’s what the ad looks like:

EPA Dioxin Ad Aug 25 2016

 

If you want more information, be careful, because the link listed in the ad will try to download a more than 300 MB .pdf file from EPA’s website. You might find it a bit easier to read the nearly 1,500-page report from this version that I uploaded to Document Cloud.

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More on ‘Cancer Creek’ and the WVDEP

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We published another story in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail about the ongoing controversy over the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed water quality standards, this one focused on the renewed fight by the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation over one of those changes:

A coalition of construction unions is again taking up the fight against what it says is an effort to weaken West Virginia’s water quality standards.

The Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation — which defeated what it called the “Cancer Creek” bill more than two decades ago — is urging the state Department of Environmental Protection to abandon its proposal to change the way agency officials calculate water pollution limits for cancer-causing chemicals.

“We opposed it then, and we’re opposing it now,” said Steve White, director of the ACT Foundation, the research, advertising and public relations arm of the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Last week, the DEP proposal drew about three dozen people to a public hearing in Charleston. No one spoke in favor of the change proposed by the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management.

And then on Monday, the WVDEP finally made public all of the public comments submitted in writing during the agency’s public comment period. You can read those here:

EPA backs WVDEP plan to cut newspaper notices

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This morning, I was reading through the public comments submitted to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in response to its proposal to do away with publishing public notices of certain air pollution permit actions in local newspapers in communities across West Virginia.

secretary-randy-huffman-portrait_smallAs we reported after a public hearing last week, this WVDEP plan was opposed by the West Virginia Press Association and the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization. Recall that WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman said he was open to changes to the proposal from Fred Durham, the agency’s air quality director.

Going through the public comments, it was hard to find anyone who favored what WVDEP had proposed — to eliminate public notices in community newspapers in favor of posting permit documents on the agency website.

Interestingly, though, I did find one letter that seems to back the proposal … it came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

I asked WVDEP about this, and spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said:

DEP is still reviewing the Rule 13 comments … While EPA supports the revisions, the large majority of other commenters appear to oppose the revisions on various grounds.

(Don’t worry about that part where EPA suggests WVDEP is doing away with public notice for operating permits — that change isn’t really part of WVDEP’s proposal and those notices are still required under a separate state rule).

Take note, though, that EPA also wants to move toward electronic notices:

DEP comments sign

 

There was a pretty good crowd — as these things go — at last night’s West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection public hearing on water quality standards. As you can read right here in our story on the hearing, no one spoke in favor of WVDEP’s proposals to make it easier to remove drinking water protections for streams and to allow more cancer-causing chemicals to be discharged into state rivers and streams.

Among those who encouraged the public to attend and speak out against the DEP rule changes were representatives of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, which submitted these written comments to agency officials.

At the hearing, Rivers Coalition representatives were also passing out copies of a new report called, “We are bodies of water: The Importance of safe drinking water for protecting women’s and children’s health.” The report focuses on explaining the importance of the longstanding state policy of protecting all rivers and streams as sources and potential sources of drinking water — so-called Category A — which is something that the DEP rule changes would make it easier for industry lobbyists to have changed.

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Study finds unsafe PFOA levels in 33 states

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There’s a new study out today with some important findings about the extent of contamination around the country related to C8 and similar chemicals. Here’s the conclusion, as summarized in a press release from Harvard University, whose researchers worked on the paper:

Levels of a widely used class of industrial chemicals linked with cancer and other health problems — polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) — exceed federally recommended safety levels in public drinking-water supplies for 6 million people in the United States, according to a new study led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

It continues:

The researchers looked at concentrations of six types of PFASs in drinking-water supplies, using data from more than 36,000 water samples collected nationwide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2013 to 2015. They also looked at industrial sites that manufacture or use PFASs; at military fire-training sites and civilian airports where firefighting foam containing PFASs is used; and at wastewater-treatment plants. Discharges from these plants — which are unable to remove PFASs from wastewater by standard treatment methods — could contaminate groundwater. So could the sludge the plants generate, which is frequently used as fertilizer.

The study found that PFASs were detectable at the minimum reporting levels required by the EPA in 194 out of 4,864 water supplies in 33 states across the United States. Drinking water from 13 states accounted for 75 percent of the detections: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois, in order of frequency of detection.

You can read the full paper here.

Also out today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is this paper, which again points to potential links between exposure to these chemicals and effects on human immune systems.

We ran a story on the front page of Sunday’s print edition that described a major change in West Virginia’s water quality standards that’s been proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Here’s the way we started the story:

200dep_sign1Department of Environmental Protection officials are proposing water quality rule changes that would allow more cancer-causing chemicals to be discharged into West Virginia rivers and streams and could make it somewhat easier for industry to have drinking water protections removed for some state waterways.

Agency officials say the changes are DEP’s response to a legislative mandate to re-examine how West Virginia decides which state streams will be designated as potential drinking water sources and to make the stream-flow figures used for carcinogen limits more closely align with long-term exposure risks and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations.

But environmental groups are opposing the DEP proposals, one of which was rejected after being dubbed the “Cancer Creek” bill when it was the subject of a heated legislative battle more than two decades ago.

That proposal, which mirrors one frequently lobbied for by state industry groups, would change the stream flows used in pollution limit calculations from one using low-flow conditions to one using average flow — a move that agency officials acknowledge allows greater levels of cancer-causing chemicals.

As the story explains, the WVDEP proposal would calculate water pollution limits for cancer-causing chemicals based on an average flow figure — called the “harmonic mean” — rather than the state’s current practice of using a low-flow figure. The state currently uses a flow referred to as “7Q10,” which is the lowest seven-day consecutive flow that occurs at least once every 10 years.

You can read the whole story online here, but if you’re wondering what the real impact of the proposal would be, it’s hard to tell, at least from what WVDEP officials are saying at this point:

One thing that DEP officials acknowledge is that the switch to harmonic mean would result in permit limits that allow more cancer-causing chemicals to be discharged into West Virginia’s streams. How much more? Of what chemicals and in what rivers or streams?

DEP officials say they don’t know. A statewide review to answer those kinds of questions hasn’t been done.

Digging through public comments and agency documents about one of the last times that the state considered a switch to harmonic mean, though, might help provide some context for the proposal’s impact.

Back in 2003, the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation — which came up with the name “cancer creek” when it fought this sort of a change as part of its opposition to the proposed Mason County pulp mill in the early 1990s — submitted this set of comments when the WVDEP was recommending a change to harmonic mean.

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AG Morrisey joins challenges to EPA gas rules

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morriseyphotoWest Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced yesterday that his office had filed a challenge on the state’s behalf to the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The rule, finalized in June, would greatly curb emissions of methane from oil and gas operations to address a problem scientists are increasingly concerned may be reducing the climate change benefits of burning less coal (see here, here and here).

In a tweet announcing his action, here’s what AG Morrisey’s office said:

 

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