Category: Environmental law

As the EPA pursues PFAS standards, industry and residents are at odds over state regulation

Read the full story from Wisconsin Public Radio.

Wisconsin residents affected by PFAS contamination say the Biden administration’s recently announced strategy to address harmful forever chemicals doesn’t go far enough and highlights the need for state standards. But industry officials argue state regulators should wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set federal drinking water regulations.

EPA proposes regulating ‘forever chemicals’ under hazardous waste law

Read the full story from Reuters. See also EPA eyes new rules for PFAS in waste from E&E News.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced it is preparing a rule that would list some so-called “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances that must be eliminated from industrial waste before it is discarded.

Under the plan, four compounds that are part of the wider family of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, could be added to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s (RCRA) list of “hazardous constituents” to “ensure they are subject to corrective action requirements.”

The chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) and GenX.

The mutable boundaries of a worst-case climate world

Read the full story at Green Law.

In a worst-case climate world, climate change will redraw our maps, rewire our minds, and revolutionize our politics. For the sake of simplicity in this short blog, we can imagine key shifts along the axis of the physical, psychological, and the political.

3M agrees to pay $98 mln to resolve suits over ‘forever’ chemicals

Read the full story from Reuters.

Industrial conglomerate 3M Co on Tuesday said it had agreed to pay about $98.4 million to settle claims that it contaminated the Tennessee River with toxic chemicals.

3M agreed to resolve a lawsuit by environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper and a separate class action by residents of Alabama’s Morgan County. It also negotiated a private settlement with Morgan County, the city of Decatur, where 3M’s local facility is based, and Decatur’s utility provider.

Democrats weigh carbon tax after Manchin rejects key climate provision

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Some House and Senate Democrats, smarting from a move by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, to kill a major element of President Biden’s climate plan, are switching to Plan B: a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

A carbon tax, in which polluting industries would pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit, is seen by economists as the most effective way to cut the fossil fuel emissions that are heating the planet.

Polystyrene may soon be banned from Florida grocery stores and markets

Read the full story from WUSF.

Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Secretary Nikki Fried announced she will direct all grocery stores, markets, and convenience stores they regulate across the state to begin phasing out the use of polystyrene products.

EPA seeks input on proposed PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is inviting small entities, including qualifying businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and local governments, to participate as Small Entity Representatives (SERs) for a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel that will focus on the agency’s effort to develop a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This regulation represents one key way that EPA anticipates remediating PFAS to better protect communities under the recently announced PFAS Roadmap. The agency remains committed to engaging with stakeholders as the agency makes progress on this rulemaking.

PFAS are an urgent public health and environmental threat facing communities across the United States. As such, EPA is developing a proposed NPDWR for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in accordance with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and other applicable statutes. EPA is also evaluating additional PFAS and assessing the available science to consider regulations for groups of PFAS.

NPDWRs are legally enforceable maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) or treatment techniques that apply to public water systems. MCLs and treatment techniques protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water. When taking action on PFAS, EPA intends to ensure that small entities in disadvantaged communities are fully engaged in solutions.

The panel will include federal representatives from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and EPA. The panel members ask a selected group of SERs to provide advice and recommendations on behalf of their company, community, or organization to inform the panel members about the potential impacts of the proposed rule on small entities.

EPA seeks self-nominations directly from the small entities that may be subject to the rule requirements. Other representatives, such as trade associations that exclusively or at least primarily represent potentially regulated small entities, may also serve as SERs.

Self-nominations may be submitted through the link below and must be received by November 2, 2021.

A major federal response to occupational extreme heat is here at last

Constructions workers in warm climates are often exposed to dangerous heat. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

by Lynée Turek-Hankins and Katharine Mach (University of Miami)

The summer of 2021 was devilishly hot across much of the U.S. Just five minutes in an attic guest room with no air conditioning could be enough to leave a person drenched in sweat and lightheaded, as one of us discovered during a heat wave in Washington state. It’s the kind of heat where it’s impossible to move, to think, to do anything.

In parts of the U.S., people work in heat and then go home to heat all summer long. Research shows that chronic heat exposure is a growing threat to health and productivity, yet it’s often overlooked by employers.

A new federal initiative to combat unhealthy heat exposure for vulnerable populations, including workers, could finally provide some relief. By bringing multiple agencies together to solve the problem of heat, the Biden administration has the opportunity to help workers avoid dangerous acute and chronic heat exposure at work and at home.

But the plan has some important gaps and ambiguities that, as infrastructure and policy researchers, we believe should be addressed to keep people safe.

A worker in a reflective vest holds a
A construction worker guides traffic on a humid, 100-degree day in Washington, D.C. Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Image

Who’s at risk

Heat is not a health and safety issue if you’re sitting in a well-constructed, air-conditioned building. But people who work primarily outside, whether in agriculture, construction or mining, in military training or on a utility or wildfire crew, may have limited access to a cool environment on hot days, and that can raise their risks.

Heat indoors can also be a threat to workers, such as cooks in a steamy kitchen or factory workers on an assembly line without adequate airflow. Personal protective equipment and clothing like hazmat suits can also intensify the impact of excessive heat.

When heat combines with other hazards, like humidity, particulate matter or ozone in the air, the health risks increase. Even if none of the hazards on its own is considered “extreme,” combined they may pose a threat. At many points in the day, a worker may face a large cumulative burden of environmental hazards that add up, with few options for adequately dealing with them.

Workers who are exposed to excess heat on the job are more likely than average Americans to be low-income, to be immigrants, to have chronic health problems, to lack health insurance or to live in poor-quality housing without air conditioning. That suggests they may also lack a cool environment at home and may be at higher risk.

A sweating cook carries as plate past rows of ovens. The photo is shot with the cook slightly blurred, capturing the frenetic pace of the kitchen
Indoor workplaces like kitchens and factories can expose workers to high heat for many hours at a time. Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

How the body responds to heat

Cool night temperatures are important for the body to recover from daytime heat exposure. Research has shown that hot nights can reduce the body’s capacity to rehydrate and negatively affect sleep, potentially leading to more workplace injuries the following day.

A severe heat episode may also permanently harm internal organs. One study linked hospitalization from acute heat illness to an increased risk of early death later in life.

People have different thresholds for heat exposure. Preexisting health conditions, such as those affecting the heart or lungs, can increase the likelihood that extreme heat will harm the person’s health.

Whether a person is acclimatized, meaning they have adjusted to the heat, is also important. One hundred degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle (38 Celsius) is different from 100 F in Las Vegas. However, getting used to a climate can only take you so far. The body’s ability to cool itself off diminishes significantly beyond 95 F (35 C). Hence, there are upper limits to acclimatization. Likewise, acclimatization may not prevent health effects from chronic heat exposure.

Chart showing where heat crosses the dangerous threshold for each percentage of relative humidity. At 100% humidity, 90 degrees is dangerous. At 40% humidity the same temperature requires caution and 108 becomes dangerous.
Humidity increases the health risk as temperatures rise. NOAA

Adapting workers for the increasing extreme heat

There are many strategies for reducing occupational exposure to heat. A workplace may require breaks and offer water; implement technologies that keep workers cool, such as cooling vests; reduce expected rates of productivity when temperatures climb; or even stop work.

Some of these strategies, however, will likely become less effective under intensifying climate change. Some locations may face high temperatures combined with humidity levels that exceed thresholds for workability.

The Biden administration’s new efforts, announced in late September 2021, provide direction for adapting to extreme heat in and out of the workplace. Some of the proposed strategies include creating standards for heat exposure at work, improving enforcement and inspections for the heat safety of workers, increasing opportunities to direct federal funds to household cooling assistance and technologies, and transforming schools into locations with free air conditioning access.

As presented, the strategies for workers are isolated to the workplace and hot days. However, chronic heat exposure, whether from living in a hot home or a habitually hot climate, is an emerging risk. Worker-specific responses that target social determinants of health and chronic exposure may be necessary, such as improving access to cooling among itinerant workers in temporary housing.

Rapidly reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is also essential to reduce climate change that will bring more frequent exposure to dangerous temperatures.

About a dozen farmworkers in long sleeves, jeans, hats and boots sit in the shade of a covered, open-air truck bed.
Farmworkers get a shade break while picking melons on a hot day in California. AP Photo/Terry Chea

Other gaps in the plan

The proposal for addressing the most pressing heat risks across America also has important gaps.

First, other environmental threats like air pollution exacerbate heat-related health impacts but aren’t currently factored in with high temperatures and humidity when developing workplace health and safety standards and heat-health policies. From emergency responders exposed to toxic dust at the Surfside Condo collapse to farmworkers facing wildfire smoke in Fresno, California, addressing heat and poor air quality together is a critical need.

Second, the proposal doesn’t address heat risk in other facilities, including prisons and migration detention centers. Here, heat protections and proper enforcement of those protections are critical for both the workers and the people in those facilities.

Third, in addition to increasing federal spending on cooling assistance, utilities could be required to stop residential utility shut-offs during extreme heat events. Although many utilities provide such protections to people with medical waivers, this process can be arduous.

Solutions should consider what influences a person’s vulnerability to heat, as well as their threat of chronic exposure. Ambitious heat safety policies are critical in a rapidly warming world.

Lynée Turek-Hankins, Ph.D. Student in Environmental Science & Policy, University of Miami and Katharine Mach, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, University of Miami

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Competent regulation might have prevented the Huntington Beach oil fiasco

Read the full story from Mother Jones.

Whomever shares the immediate blame, it was systemic under-regulation that set the scene for the spill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  responds to more than 150 oil and chemical spills in US waters each year. But earlier this year, a report by the Government Accountability Office warned that the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, responsible for overseeing construction and monitoring of offshore oil drilling, was failing to properly monitor and inspect active pipelines.

Health impact assessments: A new tool for analyzing land use plans, zone changes, and development projects

Read the full post at the Green Law Blog.

Health Impact Assessments have been a tool mainly used by state and federal health agencies to review and avoid the adverse public health impacts of their plans and large-scale capital projects. Local land use officials are beginning to employ Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to review community design issues in formulating comprehensive plans and reviewing land use projects to prioritize public health.

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