Category Archives: US Environmental Protection Agency

EPA proposes new smog standards

Repost from the EPA
[Editor: To view the proposal: http://www.epa.gov/glo/.  – RS]

News Release from Headquarters…

EPA Proposes Smog Standards to Safeguard Americans from Air Pollution

Release Date: 11/26/2014
Contact Information: Enesta Jones, Jones.enesta@epa.gov, 202-564-7873, 202-564-4355; En español: Lina Younes, younes.lina@epa.gov, 202-564-9924, 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON– Based on extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone, or smog, EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts. EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb.

“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”

EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update. Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb — the level of the current standard — can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and those who are active or work outside. Stronger ozone standards will also provide an added measure of protection for low income and minority families who are more likely to suffer from asthma or to live in communities that are overburdened by pollution. Nationally, 1 in 10 children has been diagnosed with asthma.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

EPA estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs. If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb. Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.

A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards. EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows that the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or underway. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects that this progress will continue.

The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. To ensure that people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is proposing to extend the ozone monitoring season for 33 states. This is particularly important for at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma because it will provide information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

The agency is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield. The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015.

To view the proposal: http://www.epa.gov/glo/

Errors made: Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean California Aquifers

Repost from NBC Bay Area
[Editor: Shocking coverage.  Apologies for the video’s commercial ad.  – RS]

Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers

California Dept. of Conservation Deputy Director admits that errors were made
By Stephen Stock, Liza Meak, Mark Villarreal and Scott Pham, 11/14/2014

State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation.

Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.

“It’s inexcusable,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”

California’s Department of Conservation’s Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall, told NBC Bay Area, “In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made.”

“There have been past issues where permits were issued to operators that they shouldn’t be injecting into those zones and so we’re fixing that,” Marshall added.

In “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing operations, oil and gas companies use massive amounts of water to force the release of underground fossil fuels. The practice produces large amounts of waste water that must then be disposed of.

Marshall said that often times, oil and gas companies simply re-inject that waste water back deep underground where the oil extraction took place. But other times, Marshall said, the waste water is re-injected into aquifers closer to the surface. Those injections are supposed to go into aquifers that the EPA calls “exempt”—in other words, not clean enough for humans to drink or use.

But in the State’s letter to the EPA, officials admit that in at least nine waste water injection wells, the waste water was injected into “non-exempt” or clean aquifers containing high quality water.

For the EPA, “non-exempt” aquifers are underground bodies of water that are “containing high quality water” that can be used by humans to drink, water animals or irrigate crops.

If the waste water re-injection well “went into a non-exempt aquifer. It should not have been permitted,” said Marshall.

The department ended up shutting down 11 wells: the nine that were known to be injecting into non-exempt aquifers, and another two in an abundance of caution.

In its reply letter to the EPA, California’s Water Resources Control Board said its “staff identified 108 water supply wells located within a one-mile radius of seven…injection wells” and that The Central Valley Water Board conducted sampling of “eight water supply wells in the vicinity of some of these… wells.”

“This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” said fourth- generation Kern County almond grower Tom Frantz, who lives down the road from several of the injection wells in question.

According to state records, as many as 40 water supply wells, including domestic drinking wells, are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers.

That well is located in an area with several homes nearby, right in the middle of a citrus grove southeast of Bakersfield.

This well is one of nine that were known to be injecting waste water into “non-exempt” aquifers. It’s located just east of Bakersfield.

State records show waste water from several sources, including from the oil and gas industry, has gone into the aquifer below where 60 different water supply wells are located within a one mile radius.

“That’s a huge concern and communities who rely on water supply wells near these injection wells have a lot of reason to be concerned that they’re finding high levels of arsenic and thallium and other chemicals nearby where these injection wells have been allowed to operate,” said Kretzmann.

“It is a clear worry,” said Juan Flores, a Kern County community organizer for the Center on Race, Poverty and The Environment. “We’re in a drought. The worst drought we’ve seen in decades. Probably the worst in the history of agriculture in California.”

“No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well,” said Flores. “The people are worried. They’re scared.”

The trade association that represents many of California’s oil and gas companies says the water-injection is a “paperwork issue.” In a statement issued to NBC Bay Area, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said “there has never been a bona vide claim or evidence presented that the paperwork confusion resulted in any contamination of drinking supplies near the disputed injection wells.”

However, state officials tested 8 water supply wells within a one-mile radius of some of those wells.

Four water samples came back with higher than allowable levels of nitrate, arsenic, and thallium.

Those same chemicals are used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process and can be found in oil recovery waste-water.

“We are still comparing the testing of what was the injection water to what is the tested water that came out of these wells to find out if they were background levels or whether that’s the result of oil and gas operation, but so far it’s looking like it’s background,” said James Marshall from the California Department of Conservation.

Marshall acknowledged that those chemicals could have come from oil extraction, and not necessarily wastewater disposal.

“But when those (further) test results come back, we’ll know for sure,” Marshall said.

When asked how this could happen in the first place, Marshall said that the long history of these wells makes it difficult to know exactly what the thinking was.

“When you’re talking about wells that were permitted in 1985 to 1992, we’ve tried to go back and talk to some of the permitting engineers,” said Marshall. “And it’s unfortunate but in some cases they (the permitting engineers) are deceased.”

Kern County’s Water Board referred the Investigative Unit to the state for comment.

California State officials assured the EPA in its letter that the owners of the wells where chemicals were found have been warned and could ask for further testing of their drinking wells.

Global Community Monitor: Deisel fumes near rail yards a proven health threat

Repost from The Kansas City Star
[Editor: Has anyone monitored the diesel fumes in and around Benicia’s Industrial Park?  How much more diesel would be burnt by the daily movement of engines hauling 100 tank cars into and back out of the refinery?  – RS]

Diesel fumes near Kansas City, Kan., rail yard pose health threat, report says

By Alan Bavley, 07/14/2014
Leticia DeCaigny, a community organizer with Global Community Monitor, set up a MiniVon air analyzer to monitor for diesel fumes and particulates near the BNSF’s rail yard in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. Preliminary test results reveal levels of diesel exhaust high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or raise the death rate among residents.
Leticia DeCaigny, a community organizer with Global Community Monitor, set up a MiniVon air analyzer to monitor for diesel fumes and particulates near the BNSF’s rail yard in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. Preliminary test results reveal levels of diesel exhaust high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or raise the death rate among residents. David Eulitt/The Kansas City Star

Leticia DeCaigny straps a portable air-sampling device to the side of a neighbor’s deck. For two days, the small gray box with what looks like a chimney on top will gather evidence of pollution from diesel engines.

“It’s like a human lung,” sucking in air as a person would breathe, DeCaigny says as she pushes some buttons that set the device whirring.

Just a few blocks away is the BNSF Railway’s vast Argentine rail yard, where switch engines move hundreds of freight cars to assemble trains headed for destinations across the country.

For generations, the yard has been the lifeblood of this economically challenged Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood, providing jobs and attracting industry. The trains rolling by make a constant, even reassuring sound.

But DeCaigny knows neighbors who regularly smell the diesel exhaust from the locomotives and the trucks that pick up and drop off cargo. She knows neighbors who can’t go outside for long without risking an asthma attack.

And she knows about the growing body of research that links diesel exhaust to a host of health problems —lung diseases, cancer, heart attacks and premature births.

So, with the help of a national environmental organization, DeCaigny has been taking this monitor from house to house for the past eight months to gather air samples in Argentine and the adjacent Turner neighborhood, where she lives and which also borders the rail yard.

The preliminary results from November through mid-June reveal what the environmentalists she is working with consider to be unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, levels high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or to raise the death rate among residents.

They will discuss their findings at a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the South Branch Library, 3104 Strong Ave.

BNSF officials, who have reviewed the environmentalists’ preliminary report, said it is too short on essential details about how the data were collected to judge its validity. But they said the kind of short-term sampling that was done isn’t enough to establish trends. A single “uncommon event” could throw off the readings coming from any of the sites where the monitor was placed.

Other factors, such as the weather and two busy highways — Interstate 635, which runs through the rail yard, and Interstate 70 to its north — also could affect the numbers, they said.

But Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor, which provided DeCaigny the air monitor, said air sampled at seven of the 16 sites where DeCaigny placed the monitor contained diesel pollution at unhealthy levels, enough to indicate a disturbing pattern.

“It’s starting to show it’s a regular occurrence that the diesel is creating a health threat,” he said. “There are days in Argentine and Turner when it’s really unhealthy to breathe the air, and people should know that.”

With international trade booming, environmentalists are focusing greater attention on the diesel pollution from ports and intermodal hubs, where cargo is transferred. Containerized shipping, using standardized metal boxes, makes it easy to move cargo from ship’s hold to a freight train or tractor-trailer, all powered by diesel engines.

Global Community Monitor, a nonprofit environmental justice organization, also is working with environmental groups to monitor air quality in Galena Park, Texas, which receives much of the truck traffic from the Port of Houston, and in the large Gulf port of Plaquemines Parish, La.

Environmentally conscious California, where most cargo from Asia arrives, has been in the forefront of research and regulation of diesel exhaust at its ports.

“We get all the pollution with no real direct benefit to the community,” said Andrea Hricko of the University of Southern California’s Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Hricko’s research has found that in California counties with major rail yards, nearby residents are more likely to be people of color, and with low incomes.

“There are already health disparities with income, but this adds an environmental factor,” Hricko said.

Of great concern to environmentalists are the very small particles that circulate in the air. The particles can come from dust, smoke from a fire or exhaust from a tailpipe. Once inhaled, they can stay trapped in the lungs and affect the heart, blood vessels and lungs.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has air-quality regulations for particles 2.5 microns or smaller in width. Such particles are invisible to the naked eye, less than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

The entire state of Kansas, including Wyandotte County and the Argentine rail yard, meets EPA standards for this kind of pollution.

The closest air-quality monitoring station to the Argentine rail yard is at the John F. Kennedy Community Center, a few miles to the north.

For more than six years, there’s been “a steady, steady drop” in particulate pollution from that site, said Tom Gross, the air monitoring and planning chief of the Kansas Bureau of Air, which does the monitoring for the EPA. “We view that as good news.”

Larson, of Global Community Monitor, said, “We agree with the state of Kansas and everybody else that if you look just at 2.5-micron particulates, there’s not a problem.”

But there is no regular federal monitoring of air pollution from the soot particles, called black or elemental carbon, that are commonly associated with diesel exhaust. DeCaigney’s monitor is designed to pick up this kind of pollution.

Unlike other fine particles that disperse over large areas, elemental carbon tends to stay close to where it is produced. So high readings are most likely along roads with heavy truck traffic or in the immediate vicinity of a rail yard.

Larson’s group employed an environmental scientist to make calculations from data in two recent academic studies to come up with threshold levels for what should be considered unhealthy levels of diesel pollution. One study linked high levels of diesel exhaust to increased hospitalizations for heart and lung problems among people ages 65 and older. The other study found that death rates among all ages were higher two or three days after a spike in diesel pollution.

“When those levels reach these thresholds, there’s an immediate risk,” Larson said. “It’s from short-term exposure.”

David Bryan of the EPA’s regional office for Kansas City said his agency has spoken to Larson about the monitoring underway. “We’d be interested in seeing his organization’s results.”

Driving through Argentine, DeCaigny points out Clopper Field, a public park right by the tracks that on weekends is packed with soccer players. Nearby, overlooking the rail yard, is a high rise for seniors. “They’re right on top of it,” she said.

She drives west into Turner, up to a health clinic and a community garden and orchard, and then circles past Turner High School, all close by the rail yard.

DeCaigny’s 8-year-old son died of brain cancer two years ago. She is particularly sensitive to environmental health issues.

“Knowing that some of the results are serious, this is something that needs to be known by the community,” she said.

BNSF said it has been making changes at the Argentine yard that reduce diesel exhaust. For example, switch engines are being used that turn off their main power while idling. And the rail yard’s intermodal facility is being phased out this year as BNSF moves those operations to its new Logistics Park in Edgerton. That’s taking a half-dozen diesel cranes out of service in Argentine.

But Larson said that’s not enough. He wants BNSF to fund a larger air-quality study by the EPA at the Argentine rail yard to see what further steps may be needed to reduce diesel pollution.

“It’s very laudable to bring in a new engine, but if you want to see if your measures are effective, you need to take measurements,” he said. “They’re on the right track, no pun intended. We need to make sure they keep moving ahead.”

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article727874.html#storylink=cpy