Sustained Outrage

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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.

Continue reading…

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:

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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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pfoastucture

 

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.

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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.

Continue reading…

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:

 

Continue reading…

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Coal Water Pollution

 

There continues to be interesting maneuvering in the federal class-action case over the water crisis that followed the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill.

The latest court filing, just last night, is this brief from lawyers for Kanawha Valley residents that argues that U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. should not rule in favor of Eastman Chemical in the Toxic Substances Control Act claims in the case.  Recall that Judge Copenhaver asked for additional briefing on the issue — which boils down to whether Eastman violated the law by not properly testing the chemical or warning buyers or the public about potential health impacts, or about possible safety concerns related to the type of storage tanks Freedom used.

Among other things, the new legal brief argues:

Here, without a complete and competent toxicological analysis of the risks of acute and chronic effects to human health from exposures to Crude MCHM, Plaintiffs and the Class Members face the continuing and ongoing threat and health risk resulting from any future release of the substance into the environment. Without updated and accurate published [safety data sheets] sheets that take into account the results of competent and thorough toxicological results from studies evaluating the health risks caused by Crude MCHM, Plaintiffs face the same dangers and risks.

Interestingly, there’s also another new issue that’s come up in the case: This filing from the lawyers for residents asking Judge Copenhaver to “take judicial notice” of more than a dozen facts — basically a long list of times, dates and places where the “do not use” order given to West Virginia American Water Co. customers was in place (for example, see here, here and here).

A basic part of the case against West Virginia American is the allegation that the company could have — and should have — taken steps to avoid the disruption of water service caused by the spill, by perhaps by closing its drinking water intake to avoid contaminating the system, for example.

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W.Va. logging company fined $42,000 by OSHA

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A West Virginia logging company, Switchback Timber Inc., of Bradley, has been fined $42,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for one willful, one repeat, 13 serious and three other-than-serious safety violations.

In a press release, OSHA said that agency officials began an inspection on April 5, after a complaint alleged multiple safety hazards at the worksite, and as part of the agency’s local emphasis program for logging, Switchback Timber did not have all onsite employees trained in first-aid and CPR training, resulting in the willful citation. The company was cited for this same violation in 2013. According to OSHA:

The repeat citation involved a lack of proper protective footwear for employees operating chainsaws. The serious violations included the company’s failure to:

— Provide leg and face protection.

–Ensure workers wore hardhats when outside machine cabs.

— Ensure employees used seatbelts while operating a bulldozer.

— Fully enclose a bulldozer to prevent the operator from struck-by hazards.

–Ensure machines made for only one operator did not have multiple passengers.

–The company was also cited for not having onsite operator’s manual for a bulldozer, and not providing employee training and monthly health and safety meetings.

Prentice Cline, OSHA’s area director in Charleston, said:

CPR and first-aid training were critical in this case because Switchback Timber employees were working in a remote area as far as 10 miles from the nearest medical response area. With workers exposed to severe injuries and struck-by hazards, this training can mean the difference between life and death. This company was well aware of OSHA safety requirements, but failed to comply, which is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

 

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200dep_sign1It’s the time of year when public hearings are held on rule changes being proposed by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

There’s a complete list of their proposals and hearing times/dates online here. But it seems important to highlight for now one specific hearing that’s coming up on Monday evening. It concerns proposed changes to the DEP Division of Air Quality’s rules for public notices for certain applications for air pollution permits.

You can read the proposal for yourself here. I’ve highlighted the portions about public notices.

In short, the proposal appears to be removing requirements that certain permit applications, when they go through public comment periods, include publication of a legal notice about the application and the comment period in local newspapers.  Instead, these notices would simply be posted on the WVDEP website.

One issue with this — and we’ll see if this receives any significant public comments — is that a notice in the local newspaper could be seen by anybody who reads that paper for their local news or obituaries or other information. To see notices on the WVDEP webpage, citizens would have to make it a point to visit that page — or if the agency also does email notices, sign up to receive those.

Of course, the idea behind publishing notices in the first place in newspapers “in general circulation” in the affected area is so that the general public — not just a specialized group that follows these issues — gets notice and have an opportunity for input.

The public hearing on this proposal, and on other air quality rule changes, is at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 1, at the WVDEP office at 601 57th Street S.E., in Kanawha City.

UPDATED:  Here’s a story updating this post with information from DEP and from this evening’s public hearing.