There’s some new news out today about C8, in the form of a letter from the Environmental Working Group that demands urgent action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The group says:
The Environmental Protection Agency was first alerted 15 years ago to contamination of drinking water by PFOA, a chemical used to make Teflon that has since been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, heart disease and other serious health problems. Since then, PFOA pollution has grown from a regional problem to a national crisis. Yet EPA still has not set a legal limit for the compound in drinking water, even in the face of repeated appeals from state officials and representatives of the public interest community.
You can read the full letter here. Among other things, the letter says:
… We remain deeply troubled by the agency’s glacial pace and uneven approach to protecting the public from this highly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemical. In particular, it escapes all logic as to why EPA would issue conflicting health advisory levels for PFOA, which are leading to confusion and varied responses to the problem.
This Thursday April 18, 2013, aerial photo shows the remains of a fertilizer plant destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. on April 17, 2013 night killed 15 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
This past weekend marked three years since the massive fire and explosion that killed 15 people at the West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas. Yet despite this disaster and the time that’s gone by, the Dallas Morning News reports:
On the one hand, many of the ag-supply and feed stores that used to stock a lot of the fertilizer have stopped selling it, a Dallas Morning News investigation found. Others have beefed up safeguards, such as moving the chemical out of dilapidated buildings and into fire-resistant concrete structures. Fire officials now have the power to inspect sites, and fire departments are more likely to have had training to handle the hazardous material.
But many of the recommendations made by safety investigators have gone unheeded. None of the sites that responded to News inquiries said they had installed sprinklers systems. The state does not require them, but the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has said such a system could have stopped the West accident before it became a fatal explosion.
And despite calls for keeping stockpiles of ammonium nitrate away from populated areas, in up to eight communities tons of the chemical still sit near schools, houses, nursing homes and even a hospital, according to a News analysis of state data.
Perhaps even more to the point, as the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility points out in a statement labeling the administration’s legacy on chemical plant safety issues as “timid”:
An Environmental Protection Agency proposal for preventing major industrial accidents is a step forward but only a very tiny one … The EPA plan is exceedingly narrow in scope, relies on voluntary actions and brings no enforcement heft toward averting chemical plant disasters that imperil both workers and communities.
The EPA proposal, announced in late February, is the main administrative response to what happened in West — and what’s happened in many other communities around the country under President Obama’s watch (see here, here, here and here) — yet it does not even cover fertilizer plants handling ammonium nitrate, exempts utilities and water treatment facilities, and most manufacturers that use covered hazardous substances from its safety technology requirements. Also, as PEER pointed out:
— The plan relies heavily on unfunded local voluntary committees for implementation;
— Industry analyses of inherently safer technology that prevent accidents are kept secret, and thus may remain little more than academic exercises;
— EPA has devoted little enforcement muscle to ensure that even the current requirements are followed.
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said:
U.S. industrial safety will be left little improved by the faint imprint left in the Obama years. This very modest proposal is the first major change to EPA’s Risk Management Program in 20 years – and we may not be able to afford waiting another 20 years to make significantly greater progress in reducing industrial hazards that endanger the public.
In this Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 photo, a woman leaves a Tops supermarket with bottled water that is being supplied to residents in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. PFOA, long used in the manufacuring of Teflon pans, Gore-Tex jackets, ski wax, and many other products has turned up in the water in factory towns around the country like Hoosick Falls, impacting drinking water. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Over last weekend, as reported here by The New York Times, Gov. Andrew Cuoma made the announcement that a fairly quick move to install new filters on the local water system has had the desired results:
More than six weeks after declaring an environmental emergency in this upstate village, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made his first visit here on Sunday, announcing that a new filter system had successfully cleared a toxic chemical known as PFOA from the municipal water supply.
While the Obama administration continues work on a long-awaited national standard for C8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tightened a pollution advisory for a town in New York — but not for West Virginia communities where drinking water has long been contaminated with the same toxic chemical.
Last week, a lawyer who has for 15 years been urging EPA to take stronger actions about C8 pollution from DuPont Co. and other firms wrote to the agency to question why officials have not updated a drinking water advisory level for Wood County communities to match one issued in late January in Hoosick Falls, New York.
There’s some significant news out this week, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreeing in a settlement with citizen groups to write a major new chemical plant safety rule. Here’s what the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a press release:
The Environmental Protection Agency will put in place new safeguards to help protect communities from dangerous chemical spills at tens of thousands of industrial facilities nationwide, under the terms of a legal settlement approved by a federal district court in New York. The agreement is meant to strengthen protections as called for by Congress more than four decades ago.
Last July, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), People Concerned About Chemical Safety, and the NRDC sued EPA alleging that the agency had failed to prevent hazardous substance spills from industrial facilities, including above-ground storage tanks. NRDC explained:
The settlement between the groups and EPA, approved by the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, requires EPA to begin a rulemaking process immediately and to finalize spill prevention rules within three and a half years. The forthcoming protections will cover over 350 hazardous chemicals, and will apply broadly to tens of thousands of industrial facilities across the country.
There are thousands of hazardous substance spills each year from industrial facilities that are not subject to any hazardous substance spill prevention rules, according to United States Coast Guard data from the last ten years. Chemicals released in industrial spills can contaminate waterways, and exposure to these substances can be dangerous, and in some instances, fatal.
Pam Nixon, spokeswoman for PCACS, said:
It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to get EPA to agree to set spill prevention rules. Uniform federal safeguards for above-ground storage tanks and secondary containment will better protect not only public drinking water systems, but also the groundwater for households using private wells.
The chemical involved in the Freedom Industries spill is not listed as a hazardous substance under the Clean Water Act … and thus would not be covered under the hazardous-substance regulations plaintiffs seek in this case. But the Freedom industries spill brought to national attention the broader threat posed by the lack of spill-prevention regulations for chemical storage facilities like above-ground storage tanks.
There’s a hefty new ruling out of federal court in Ohio, in which U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. turns down a request from DuPont Co. for a new trial or a ruling in its favor as a matter of law in the big C8 case trial that ended with a $1.6 million verdict against the company.
Of course, there are more than 3,500 individual C8 cases to go — and Judge Sargus last month issued this order that outlines a plan for trying first the 260 cancer cases on a schedule of 40 per month starting in April 2017.
This image provided by the West Virginia State Police shows a fireball erupting across Interstate 77 from a gas line explosion in Sissonville, W. Va.,Tuesday Dec. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/West Virginia State Police)
For generations, West Virginia has been one of our nation’s leading energy producing states. As we continue to explore opportunities to diversify our state’s energy portfolio, we must ensure the safety of hardworking West Virginians at drilling sites, production facilities and pipelines across the state. That’s why I am requesting a study to determine how we can best protect workers at natural gas operations. We must ensure our workers have the proper training and skills to do their jobs in the most effective way possible and return home safely. Workforce safety must be the expectation for businesses operating in West Virginia, not an afterthought.
Under the governor’s executive order, the commission was to “prepare and issue a final report” by Nov. 16, 2015. We haven’t seen a final report yet. Maybe we’ll hear something tomorrow night from the governor, but at the least, I’m told that the final report should be ready later this week.
Until then, what we do have are the minutes of the commission’s last meeting on Nov. 12, which include a summary of the panel’s recommendations to the governor. The recommendations focus first on issues related to emergency response when incidents occur at oil and gas operations. For example, the commission recommended:
— The governor’s office should develop legislation to require that drilling and pipeline construction activities are subject to the state’s 15-minute notification law (W.Va. Code 15-5B-3a(b)(1)). Provisions may apply to fires, explosions, and similar emergency events (confirmed emergencies) at drilling and pipeline construction sites (with greater than 3-inch lines). Provisions also should consider situations when gaps in communications present a challenge to meet the notification time limit.
— Under the direction of the governor’s office, the state should establish a database to track incidents and accidents at an associated with natural gas and hazardous liquid drilling and pipeline sites statewide. The state will monitor the database to look for trends that might require additional efforts to mitigate future issues. The W.Va. Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (WVDHSEM) also should map out, review, and affirm “natural gas and hazardous liquid incident” notification/communications protocols within state government.
— The West Virginia Fire Marshal will conduct an evaluation to assess the need (current and future) for fire/emergency responder training and equipment. Presently, county fire/emergency responders benefit from several sources, including voluntary support from oil and natural gas companies. Consideration of any new fee related to “fire service” for emergency responders should be done prodently on a case-by-case basis at the local level.
— New state legislation — During the 2015 session, state lawmakers significantly rolled back the chemical tank safety provisions of SB 373, the law that unanimously passed in the months after the Freedom spill. The industry-based SB 423 exempted thousands of tanks from new Department of Environmental Protection Safety standards. In its second annual report, a water safety study commission recommended clarification of what information about chemical tanks could be released and urged continued funding of a Bureau for Public Health effort to help public utilities write source-water protection plans.
I also asked for communications from Greear to Bowman, but received a vague answer that “the documents we have discovered through our search that are arguably responsive concern private, non-public matters are therefore not subject to production.”
But on Oct. 24, in response to a Gazette-Mail story about Morrisey’s ties to Cardinal Health, he released a statement from Bowman that said the following:
“Beginning in April of 2013, I spoke with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Dan Greear about the relevant facts in the Cardinal matter. They provided me with a description of the relevant background, including Attorney General Morrisey’s prior work in private practice, and his wife’s work at her government relations firm. Based upon my review, it has been and remains my belief that Attorney General Morrisey would be ethically permitted to participate in the Cardinal Health case, if he elected to do so. I initially conveyed that position to the Attorney General and his office in the spring and summer of 2013. Based upon the information provided to me, I do not believe that a legal conflict exists under West Virginia rules. Any decision to step aside was purely voluntary and went further than the rules require.”
To this day, Morrisey has declined to release any documents that would show what information he provided to Bowman.
I talked to Professor Bowman today. He said his political contribution to Morrisey did not “slant” the legal advice he gave to the attorney general in any way.
“That had nothing to do with my advice,” said Bowman, who contributes to numerous GOP candidates.
Bowman also recalled that he gave his ethics advice to Morrisey in writing.
If that’s the case, why is Morrisey refusing to release it?
Now, Morrisey has taken to Facebook saying the story is “untrue.” Specifically, he says a consumer investigator position wasn’t eliminated to make way for Henderson’s newly created position of deputy chief of staff.
Henderson’s personnel action form shows that Morrisey’s office eliminated the investigator position. If you click here, you’ll see the personnel action form, which shows the elimination of position # 57 (held by former consumer fraud investigator Joe Crawford; a position titled “investigator”) and the renaming of the position to “deputy chief of staff.”
The new position is being funded from two accounts — 50% or $49,749.96 from Fund 1509 (Consumer Protection Recovery Fund) and 50% from Fund 0150 (Attorney General Salary Fund.” It would have been impossible to pay Mr. Henderson his full $99,500 salary without eliminating the investigator position.
As it stands now, the AG’s office has eliminated the investigator position, but, of course, could restore that position at any time in the future by taking a vacant position and renaming it “investigator.”
Also, Morrisey demanded that all questions regarding Lance Henderson be submitted in writing. I did so. And one of the questions submitted was this: “Why was an investigative consumer position eliminated to make way for a deputy chief of staff position?”
Morrisey’s answer: “We have been, and continue to, actively recruit additional investigators for our office.”
I quoted that response in my initial story. He only took to his Facebook page and disputed that after we published our investigation of Lance Henderson’s hiring. And he has never contacted us to request a correction.
The managing director of a federal agency assigned to investigate the nation’s worst chemical accidents publicly asked this week to be allowed to return to work after being suspended for four months, according to information released on his behalf by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Dr. Daniel Horowitz, a Ph.D. chemist, led the U.S. Chemical Safety Board since 2010 but was placed on paid administrative leave on June 16 pending an investigation into “possible misconduct.” That leave has been extended twice, leaving the agency without its top administrator even as it conducted probes into an accident that killed four at the DuPont plant in La Porte, among other major accidents nationwide.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Lise:
From what we can tell, the main thing the CSB is now investigating is its own executive staff.
Lise’s story said:
The CSB itself did not immediately issue a response. Its board meets Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to discuss ongoing probes, including review of the West Fertilizer plant explosion, the DuPont La Porte gas leak and the accident at the plant owned by Williams Partners in Louisiana.
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