Sustained Outrage

Another year of ‘Death on the Job’

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Here’s the latest from the AFL-CIO, as outlined in their annual “Death on the Job” report released today:

In 2015:

— 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the United States.

— The fatal injury rate—3.4 per 100,000 workers—remained the same as the rate in 2014.

— An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers died from occupational diseases.

— 150 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions.

— Nearly 3.7 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported.

— Underreporting is widespread—the true toll is 7.4 million to 11.1 million injuries each year.

 

Trump EPA moves to drop chemical safety rule

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bayerblastt

Photo by Tom Hindman

Here’s a bit of interesting news announced yesterday by the Trump administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt took action today to reconsider the “Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: “Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air” (“RMP Rule”) and signed an administrative stay to delay the effective date of the rule regarding chemical accident preparedness and prevention, until June 19, 2017.

The 90-day extension will allow time for EPA to consider whether to further extend the effective date of the rule through a rulemaking action while the Agency reconsiders the rule in response to a petition the agency received in February 2017 from the RMP Coalition.

“As an agency, we need to be responsive to concerns raised by stakeholders regarding regulations so facility owners and operators know what is expected of them,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said as he directed the Agency to extend the comment period.

New study reminds of chemicals in food wrappers

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Here’s the top of today’s press release:

While enjoying fast food, many people feel some pangs of guilt at the calories and salt they are consuming.  Today researchers are pointing to yet another possible cause for concern. In a paper published in Environmental Science &Technology Letters, scientists found fluorinated chemicals in about a third of take-out food packaging samples tested.  Previous research has shown these chemicals can migrate from packaging into the food which people eat.

Fluorinated chemicals are used to give water-repellant, stain-resistant, and non-stick properties to consumer products such as furniture, carpets, outdoor gear, clothing, cosmetics, cookware, and even food packaging materials. The most studied of these substances has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning in adults as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children.

In this study, the scientists from Silent Spring Institute, Notre Dame, Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Green Science Policy Institute collected and analyzed fast food packaging for this family of chemicals. In 400 samples of take-out packaging from fast food restaurants across the U.S., they found that 46% of food contact papers and 20% of paperboard contained fluorinated chemicals.

Study co-author Arlene Blum of U.C. Berkeley and the Green Science Policy Institute, said:

We should question putting any fluorinated materials into contact with food. “Given the potential for harm, we must ask if the convenience of water and grease resistance is worth risking our health.

Another study co-author, Graham Peaslee of the University of Notre Dame, said:

I was very surprised to find these chemicals in food contact materials from so many of the samples we tested. These chemicals are persistent and some bioaccumulate in the body, and there are safer non-fluorinated alternatives available.

We’ve written about this issue before here, here, here and here.

Continue reading…

New EPA report sets record straight on gas drilling

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Natural Gas, fracking

 

As the clock ticks away on the Obama administration, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are trying to set the record straight on the agency’s landmark effort to study the potential water quality impacts of the nation’s natural gas boom.

Here’s the announcement today from the EPA press office:

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. 

That’s quite different from the announcement EPA issued more than a year ago, when it published a draft version of this report:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a draft assessment today on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources in the United States. The assessment, done at the request of Congress, shows that while hydraulic fracturing activities  in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water. The assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal.

Readers may recall that we reported at the time, in June 2015, that even the draft EPA report really indicated that the data just wasn’t there to make sweeping conclusions about the safety of this industrial activity, and at the time EPA scientists admitted as much to any reporter who bothered to ask. Today’s new, final report follows strong criticism of the draft by the EPA Science Advisory Board (read the final SAB review here), and a recent story by Marketplace that detailed some of the behind-the-scenes moves that led to the incorrect spin back in 2015.

Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science adviser and deputy assistance administrator for research and development, said today:

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. This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.

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freedom aerial

 

If you’ve been wondering what ever happened to that U.S. Chemical Safety Board recommendation that West Virginia create a local program to prevent chemical plant incidents, there was some action on this issue today.

During a morning meeting in Charleston, the West Virginia Public Water Supply System Study Commission unexpectedly approved the following recommendation:

… That the recommendation of the CSB be followed without redundancy using the existing rules and agencies of the state.

The commission’s recommendation will be included in its annual report to the Legislature, which is due to be completed by Dec. 15.

Some readers may recall that lawmakers created the commission as part of the measures passed after the January 2014 chemical spill at Freedom Industries, which contaminated the drinking water supply for the entire Kanawha Valley. The CSB recommendation for creation of a local chemical safety program for the Kanawha Valley and other parts of the state was first made following the 2008 explosion at Bayer CropScience in Institute.   State and local officials basically did nothing about the CSB recommendation for years, until we published this story after the Freedom spill:

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.

Even after that, and after the Legislature instructed the water study commission — created to provide some long-term oversight over efforts to protect state drinking water supplies — to review the CSB recommendation, nothing much happened on the commission’s end. For its first two annual reports, the commission punted.

Continue reading…

Obama picks former industry official from CSB post

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I haven’t seen much mention of it in the media so far, but there was a move by President Obama on Friday to fill the last open spot on the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Here’s the press release from the White House:

rachel_meidl_key_official_picToday, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts:

— Rachel A. Meidl – Member, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Ms. Meidl is currently listed as the deputy associate administrator for policy and programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. That connection is interesting, of course, because the CSB’s current chair, also an Obama pick, Vanessa Allen Sutherland, was previously at PHMSA as its chief counsel. Well, there’s also the fact that PHMSA is not necessarily known for doing such a great job, and the Obama administration isn’t thought of by agency critics as having really improved the situation there.

It’s also worth noting that Ms. Meidl was fairly recently director of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council, an industry lobby group and in that role was critical of some of the CSB’s biggest initiatives, such as the push for “inherently safer technologies” that would prevent chemical plant disasters (see here, here and here).

Of course, given the findings and recommendations in the much-criticized CSB report on Freedom Industries, it’s not really clear whether making the chemical industry inherently safer is a priority at the CSB anymore

Another C8 trial against DuPont underway

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successtopphoto

 

Another trial is underway in federal court in Ohio against DuPont for the impacts of its C8 pollution. As the Columbus Dispatch reports:

Kenneth Vigneron Sr. is a regular guy who likes to hunt with his buddies and do the best for his four kids, his attorney said Tuesday in federal court in Columbus.

This week, though, the 56-year-old truck driver from Washington County, Ohio, is the focus of another multimillion-dollar lawsuit against DuPont over the C8 chemical it used to make Teflon, the nonstick coating on pots and pan.

Plaintiffs have said they contracted myriad diseases after DuPont dumped C8-contaminated water into the Ohio River and spewed C8 from its smokestacks, both at DuPont’s Washington Works Plant south of Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Here’s a copy of the original complaint filed on Vigneron’s behalf in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. As we’ve reported before:

Attorneys in more than 3,500 lawsuits pending against DuPont in U.S. District Court in Columbus have been trying to get answers about how the DuPont transactions affect which corporate entity is responsible for damages sought by residents who drank water contaminated by DuPont’s decades-long manufacture of C8 at its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg … 

So far, juries awarded verdicts against DuPont for a total of $7.2 million in two of the C8 cases that have gone to trial. Three other cases have settled for undisclosed amounts. Another case is set for trial in November and the judge has indicated that 40 more cases alleging C8 caused cancer will go to trial in 2017.

 

 

Water commission looking at CSB’s Freedom report

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Freedom tanks

 

There’s more scrutiny coming for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s controversial report on the Freedom Industries chemical spill.

Earlier today, a committee of West Virginia’s Public Water Supply Safety Study Commission indicated it was going to review the CSB report more closely because of the concerns that have been raised about it by citizens and scientists (see here, here and here).

Readers may recall that the PWSSSC (phew) was charged by the Legislature with, among other things, reviewing a longstanding CSB recommendation that the Kanawha Valley and West Virginia establish a local chemical accident prevent program. When the Freedom spill happened, state and local officials had never acted on that CSB recommendation, and as part of the post-spill legislation on above-ground chemical storage tanks, lawmakers decided to revisit it by having the commission take a look.

During a meeting this morning in Charleston, the commission’s committee that is looking at the CSB recommendation said it plans later this month to urge the entire commission to adopt a recommendation to the Legislature that the CSB proposal be implemented. This would obviously be a big deal — though given the GOP’s continued control of the Senate and House, it’s possible it will be dead on arrival at the statehouse.

The water safety commission has another meeting set for Nov. 22 where it will consider and vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, commission member Evan Hansen suggested, and the commission agreed, that the committee looking at the CSB recommendation also take a closer look at the concerns that have been raised about the CSB report on Freedom. A lawyer for the commission said that if the panel decides it has problems with the CSB report, it could include those concerns in its annual report to the Legislature, which is due Dec. 15.

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IMG_4790

 

When we last left the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, board Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland was saying that the agency’s investigative staff had review public and scientific criticism of its Freedom Industries report and didn’t see any need for an addendum — let alone a wholesale write of the sort that some experts are advocating — and Sutherland was saying it was likely the board would accept that recommendation.

[Shortly after our story on those comments was published, Sutherland was apparently trying to backpedal, with a board spokeswoman seeking a correction — saying that, of course, nothing was final until the board took a formal vote.]

It turns out, though, that the board may have to spend a little more time reviewing all of the criticisms of its Freedom report after all … On Tuesday, Kanawha Valley resident Philip Price, a former Carbide chemist, filed a formal petition with the CSB seeking correction of its Freedom Industries report.

I’ve posted a copy of Price’s petition here, and this is his request:

A major revision or addendum must be issued for this seriously flawed report. It contains misstatements of fact, unsubstantiated allegations, and critical omissions. It would not pass standard peer review, nor be acceptable for publication in a refereed scientific journal (I review for several international journals). This incident record will have no historical use, if viewed as flawed.

Price explains:

After two and a half years of work, the CSB Report fails to address the most fundamental questions of a chemical spill investigation:

     • What chemicals were spilled?
     • How much of each chemical was spilled?
     • When did the spill happen?
     • How did the spill happen?
     • Who received what relative exposures? (which residents’ neighborhoods, census tracts)

Continue reading…

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water intake

 

Late Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver made public the “term sheets” in tentative class-action settlements with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical Co. aimed at resolving litigation over the role both companies played in the water crisis that followed the Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill at Freedom Industries.

The settlements are far from final, and there are many steps left to go before residents, businesses and workers will see any compensation. Here’s a look at what we know and what we don’t know at this point:

How much money is involved?

The total settlement amount is up to $151 million. It’s “up to” that amount because at some point, if claims filed by residents and businesses don’t use up all the money, some of it will go back to West Virginia American and Eastman.

Of the total amount in the two settlements, $126 million of it will come from the deal with West Virginia American Water, its parent company, and an affiliated service company. The other $25 million comes from Eastman Chemical. It’s not entirely clear at this point how much of the settlement comes from insurance policies, but a new lawsuit filed by West Virginia American against one of its insurers suggests some of the water company’s insurers are paying, but at least one of them had as of Friday been balking at providing coverage for the settlement.

What is the settlement about?

The central lawsuit that prompted the settlement is called Crystal Good v. American Water Works Co, for a local resident who was the lead named plaintiff and for West Virginia American Water’s parent company. It was set for a trial to start on Oct. 25, in which the focus was not so much what caused the Freedom Industries spill, but what caused the spill to be allowed to contaminate the region’s drinking water supply.

While West Virginia American Water and Eastman in their defense wanted to point to Freedom’s criminal negligence, the plaintiffs planned to present a detailed case about the water company and Eastman.

For example, the plaintiffs planned to present evidence that West Virginia American was treating and storing drinking water at far below its capacity in the cold days prior to the spill, leaving it with little in the way of backup water that would have allowed it to briefly close the Elk River intake until the worst of the spill had passed.  Plaintiffs alleged that the water company, by allowing the drinking water to be contaminated, had breached its contract with its customers across the region. The plaintiffs alleged that Eastman didn’t warn Freedom Industries that the Crude MCHM Eastman sold could corrode Freedom’s chemical tanks, and that Eastman officials knew the Freedom site was in terrible disrepair, but did nothing about it.

The trial itself, though, was only going to be about fault — whether the water company and Eastman were liable for the drinking water contamination. Had the plaintiffs gone to trial and won on that issue, any awarding of monetary damages could have taken much longer, through a separate legal proceeding.

Who is covered by the settlement?

The case that was set for trial covered a broad class that included three categories of people: Everyone who lived at the time of the spill in a dwelling supplied with tap water by the West Virginia American Kanawha Valley Treatment Plant, everyone who at that time owned a business supplied with water by that plant, and everyone who worked at a business supplied with water from the plant, but who lived in a dwelling that got its tap water from some other source.

Expert testimony in the pre-trial phase of the case put the size of the resident class at about 224,000 people and the business owner class at more than 7,300 people. It is not clear how many wage earners could be covered.

The water company settlement’s term sheet, though, states that a final agreement — still to be prepared by the lawyers for both sides — “will identify a proposed settlement class” that would have to be approved by the court.

What if I didn’t sign up for any lawsuits?

Generally speaking, class actions don’t work that way. Anyone who fits into the class definition that is eventually approved by the court as the “proposed settlement class” would automatically be part of the case. The intent of the settlement is to resolve all litigation over the water crisis with Eastman and West Virginia American. This includes not just the “Good” case that was set for trial, but a variety of other cases that were pending in state and federal courts.

At least one case has already been identified as not being part of the settlement, one brought on behalf of the West Virginia Hospitality Association. People who fall within the definition of the class will also have an opportunity later to “opt-out” of the settlement. But the term sheets also indicate that, if enough people do that, the defendants can decide to pull out of the deal. For example, if more than 1,100 claimants opt-out of the Eastman settlement, Eastman can terminate its obligation to pay. West Virginia American can back out of the deal if either 900 individuals or 250 businesses opt-out of the settlement.

Continue reading…