Hundreds of hazardous industrial sites that dot the California coastline – including oil and gas refineries and sewage-treatment plants – are at risk of severe flooding from rising sea level if the climate crisis worsens, new research shows.
If planet-warming pollution continues to rise unabated, 129 industrial sites are estimated to be at risk of coastal flooding by 2050 according to the study, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology by researchers from University of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley, as well as Climate Central.
A previously underestimated risk lurks in the frozen soil of the Arctic. When the ground thaws and becomes unstable in response to climate change, it can lead to the collapse of industrial infrastructure, and in turn to the increased release of pollutants. Moreover, contaminations already present will be able to more easily spread throughout ecosystems. According to new findings, there are at least 13,000 to 20,000 contaminated sites in the Arctic that could pose a serious risk in the future.
When word surfaced that soils and liquids laced with chemicals from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment were being sent to southeastern Michigan for storage, local residents and politicians were livid.
“People were seeing pictures of what happened in Ohio — the smoke plumes, wildlife dying,” said Jordyn Sellek, director of a local government coalition. “They were hearing about people having health issues, and that’s scary. And now it’s coming into your community.”
A February train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, shone a spotlight on the impact of toxic chemicals. But communities who are exposed to such chemicals on a more routine basis say they’re still waiting for the same level of recognition.
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. EPA against Norfolk Southern on Friday alleging the rail company violated the Clean Water Act by discharging hazardous substances and pollutants at the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment beginning Feb. 3.
Since the derailment, the EPA estimates about 9.2 million gallons of wastewater and 12,932 tons of solid waste have been shipped off-site and is now seeking to make the rail company pay for cleanup.
“No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced. With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess they made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement announcing the suit.
The February 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train transporting hazardous materials carries a lesson in crisis preparation and management for all food & beverage manufacturing facilities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its 2021 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis, which shows that environmental releases of TRI chemicals from facilities covered by the program remained below pre-pandemic levels and releases in 2021 are 10% lower than 2012 releases, even with an 8% increase from 2020 to 2021. Additionally, in 2021, facilities managed 89% of their TRI chemical waste through preferred practices such as recycling, energy recovery and treatment, while reporting that they released 11% of their TRI chemical waste into the environment.
The 2021 TRI National Analysis summarizes TRI chemical waste management activities, including releases, that occurred during calendar year 2021. More than 21,000 facilities submitted reports on 531 chemicals requiring TRI reporting that they released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste. EPA, states and Tribes receive TRI data from facilities in sectors such as manufacturing, mining, electric utilities and commercial hazardous waste management.
The 2021 Analysis features updated visualizations and analytical tools to make data more useful and accessible to communities, including the option to view data by region and watershed. EPA has also updated demographic information in the “Where You Live” mapping tool and in the Chemical Profiles section.
Readers can view facility locations with overlayed demographic data to identify potential exposure to TRI chemical releases in disadvantaged communities. Community groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders can use this data, along with other environmental data, to better understand which communities may experience a disproportionate pollution burden and take action at the local level.
EPA is holding a public webinar on March 28, 2023, to give an overview of the 2021 TRI National Analysis. Register for the webinar.
Notable Trend in 2021
The National Analysis shows a 24% increase in the number of new pollution reduction activities facilities initiated from 2020 to 2021 — a strong rebound after the decrease seen from 2019 to 2020. These activities include facilities implementing strategies like replacing TRI chemicals with less hazardous alternatives or reducing the amount of scrap they produce. Through both existing programs and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA offers grant opportunities to state and Tribal technical assistance providers to help prevent pollution.
Industry professionals can also look at TRI reporting on pollution prevention to learn about best practices implemented at facilities.
Ethylene Oxide Reporting
TRI reporting also shows a 45% decrease in ethylene oxide releases from 2012 to 2021, driven by decreased air emissions. Although there was a 15% increase in releases compared to 2020, quantities of ethylene oxide released in 2021 are lower than pre-pandemic quantities from 2019. EPA also expanded reporting requirements for ethylene oxide and other chemicals to include additional facilities. Reporting from these facilities will appear for the first time in next year’s National Analyses.
For the second time, the TRI National Analysis includes reporting on perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) following the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. For Reporting Year 2021, 176 PFAS were reportable to TRI. Facilities reported managing 1.3 million pounds of these chemicals as waste. This is an increase from the 800,000 pounds in 2020 and is largely due to reporting on one PFAS, perfluorooctyl iodide, which EPA began requiring facilities to report in 2021. Most of the facilities that manage PFAS operate in the chemical manufacturing and hazardous waste management sectors. The hazardous waste management sector accounted for roughly 80% of the 108,334 pounds of PFAS released into the environment, primarily to regulated landfills.
Last December, EPA proposed a rule that would improve reporting on PFAS to TRI by eliminating an exemption that allows facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when those chemicals are used in small, or de minimis, concentrations. Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, this rule would ensure covered industry sectors and federal facilities that make or use TRI-listed PFAS will no longer be able to rely on the de minimis exemption to avoid disclosing their PFAS releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.
Ohio is suing Norfolk Southern Railway after one of its trains derailed in East Palestine with toxic chemicals on board, Attorney General Dave Yost announced Tuesday.
The 58-count lawsuit filed in federal court is the strongest rebuke of Norfolk Southern since a train spilled hazardous materials into the air, water and soil on Feb. 3, rattling the small village of 4,700 along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Five of the derailed cars contained vinyl chloride, which the railroad later vented and burned to prevent an explosion.
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