OTI Environmental News 2016
26 MARCH 2016, Issue 855
In this issue:
CYANIDE SPILL
"Barrick Gold Fined $9.3 Million for Argentina Cyanide Spill." Associated Press, March 11, 2016.
BUDDY SYSTEM
"Vallejo Ordered to Pay $2.3 Million in a Lawsuit by Former firefighter." Vallejo Times-Herald, March 22, 2016.
ASPHYXIATION
"Eight Killed in Chemical Accident at Siam Commercial Bank HQ-Statement."
"Security Worker Found Dead Inside Ohio Steel Plant." Associated Press, March 22, 2016.
ASBESTOS / WORKER RIGHTS
"Worker Claims Retaliation Over Asbestos Report." Associated Press, March 21, 2016.
SILICA
"U.S. Regulators Finalize New Silica Limits for Construction, Other Industries." Reuters, March 24, 2016.
HAZARDOUS WASTE / MIXED WASTE
"EPA: Radioactive Material in Unexpected Places at Land ll." Associated Press March 24, 2016.
CYANIDE SPILL

"Barrick Gold Fined $9.3 Million for Argentina Cyanide Spill." Associated Press, March 11, 2016.

Authorities in Argentina fined Barrick Gold Corp. $9.3 million on Friday for a cyanide spill last year at the company’s Veladero mine in the western province of San Juan. The Canadian-owned company said a valve failed in a pipe carrying cyanide at the mine Sept. 13, causing a leak into nearby waters. An investigation determined about 35,300 cubic feet (1,000 cubic meters) of liquid cyanide solution spilled. Barrick said the amount did not pose a risk to humans. But an Argentine judge investigating the spill suspended operations using cyanide at the mine until the cause could be determined, and local residents expressed fear that their water resources had been contaminated. The suspension was lifted days later. On Friday, the Ministry of Mining in San Juan, about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) west of Buenos Aires, announced the fine. "With this we are protecting the development of mining activities in the province," Gov. Sergio Unac said. Earlier in the week, Judge Pablo Oritja brought charges against nine current and former Barrick employees without ordering preventative detention We recognize that we have disappointed many of our partners in San Juan province and we deeply regret this incident," Barrick President Kelvin Dushnisky said in a statement posted on the company’s website The statement repeated the company’s position that the spill posed no risk to people’s health or the environment. An assembly of residents of the nearby village of Jachal released a statement saying: "Our life and the water of our people are not worth the 145 million-peso ($9.3 million) fine given to Barrick." view news article

BUDDY SYSTEM

"Vallejo Ordered to Pay $2.3 Million in a Lawsuit by Former firefighter." Vallejo Times-Herald, March 22, 2016.

A jury awarded a former Vallejo firefighter more than $2.3 million Friday at the end of a nine-week long trial in a case against the city Todd Milan, 47, sued the city alleging retaliation in 2013 after his employment was terminated in 2012. The jury took about two days to deliberate before awarding Milan $2,357,089, $400,000 of which for emotional distress, while the rest is for past and future wage lost, said his lawyer Leslie Levy. "We were ecstatic (with the verdict)," Levy said. "It vindicated him. The jury found that he had been retaliated against." The Oakland-based lawyer said Milan's dismissal stemmed from a mobile home fire in 2011 that killed a paraplegic resident and injured the firefighter. Milan was ready to enter the burning structure at the Olympia of Vallejo mobile home park to rescue the man, when he looked back to see his captain getting ready to go in with him. "All (the captain) had to do was put on his helmet and gloves," Levy said. Vallejo firefighters are supposed to enter into a burning structure in pairs, she added. Milan then went ahead to go into the home after hearing screaming from inside expecting his captain to be seconds behind him. However, while inside the blazing home, Milan did not see his captain. He then tried to pull the resident out of the bed but had to leave the structure because of a flashover, Levy said. "He could have died if he didn't leave," she said. The resident, Jimmy Brown II, 39, was eventually rescued from the house, but later succumbed to his injuries. Due to the fire, Milan sustained third-degree burns on his hands, second-degree burns to his face and first- and second-degree burns to his back. He was out of duty for about six months. Following the fire, Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident. Milan was told by his supervisors, including the fire chief at that time, that his story should "match everybody else's," Levy said. Due to Milan's report, the fire department received a notice of violation by OSHA for the captain not having his gloves at the time for the fire, and for the failure to adhere to the buddy system by Milan and the captain, Levy said. Milan, who was still an apprentice, was later dismissed after not passing his 30th month examination. Like all new hires, Milan, who was hired in 2009, had to go through a three-year apprenticeship at the beginning of his career at the Vallejo Fire department. Levy contends that the chief was using the examination as an excuse to retaliate against Milan for his OSHA reports. Since then, Milan has been teaching paramedic classes to doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians. "He wants to go back to the fire service, but he hasn't been hired because of his termination record," Levy said. Milan was a Silicon Valley salesman when he decided to go into public service in his 30s, and was hired by the Vallejo Fire Department at 41 years old. The city has 60 days to appeal the case. "We are very disappointed in the result, and are currently considering our options," said City Attorney Claudia Quintana in an email. According to the city council meeting agenda, the case is set to be discussed during the closed session Tuesday. "(Milan) loves the fire service," Levy said. "It saddened him to see the lack of integrity of a few people in the fire department, but he still holds the fire service as a whole in high regard." view news article

ASPHYXIATION

"Eight Killed in Chemical Accident at Siam Commercial Bank HQ-Statement." Reuters, March 14, 2016.

An accident at the headquarters of Thailand's Siam Commercial Bank, possibly caused by a fire retardant chemical, has killed eight people, the bank said on Monday. The accident took place late on Sunday as contractors were working on the building's fire fighting systems. "Gas pyrogens intended to extinguish fires opened and kept oxygen out resulting in injuries and death," the bank said. "Eight people died as a result and seven injured people are in hospital," the bank said. Those killed were contractors and a security guard, police said. "They were in the building for maintenance work," said Police Colonel Charoen Srisasalak. In Feb. 2015 a fire broke out at the sprawling SCB complex located in the north of the Thai capital Bangkok, killing one fireman. view news article

"Security Worker Found Dead Inside Ohio Steel Plant." Associated Press, March 22, 2016.

A security worker at a steel plant in Ohio may have died from nitrogen exposure, federal investigators said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the 32-year-old worker was found dead inside TimkenSteel's Faircrest Plant in Canton on Sunday. The agency said nitrogen that's used in the plant flooded the air and caused oxygen levels to drop where the worker's body was found. Officials said Kenny Ray Jr. began working at the steel plant about six months ago. He also was a police officer in nearby Creston and a Uniontown firefighter and paramedic. Ray was described as a well-respected member of the company's security and fire team. He was in a fifth- floor elevator motor room checking fire extinguishers when he died. OSHA is working with TimkenSteel to figure out if the nitrogen system has affected oxygen levels in other areas. TimkenSteel has taken steps to ensure safety and has hired an independent auditor to do assessments, said Tom Stone, a vice president at the company. "We have been working with OSHA and our workforce on additional actions to strengthen our safety program," Stone said. OSHA said the plant has had previous citations stemming from a nitrogen exposure in 2015, but TimkenSteel contested those violations and other issues found at additional facilities. Stone said the company has addressed every issue OSHA has identified at its facilities during the past year. The company faces fines totaling more than $500,000 for its most recent violations. OSHA said Timken Co., which established TimkenSteel in 2014, has been inspected 29 times and issued 76 violations since 2005. view news article

ASBESTOS / WORKER RIGHTS

"Worker Claims Retaliation Over Asbestos Report." Associated Press, March 21, 2016.

A maintenance worker in Yellowstone National Park said a park concession company retaliated against him after he reported that he and five other employees were exposed to asbestos at a more than century-old lodge. Jon Kline told The Associated Press on Monday that Xanterra Parks & Resorts began giving him poor reviews and declined to renew his contract after he reported the incident last March. Kline said he has filed an employee retaliation claim that is still pending. "We were just told, ‘It’s safe, don’t worry about it,’" Kline said of his exposure while a crew worked on steam lines wrapped in asbestos at the Old Faithful Inn. "It was pretty egregious, in my opinion." All asbestos was cleaned up by a certified company before the hotel opened to guests in May, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said. The inn ranks among the world’s biggest log structures and is one of the most dramatic and recognizable hotels in the national park system. The exposure resulted in four workplace safety citations against Xanterra, which paid $15,300 in fines last September. Six workers wearing insufficient safety gear, including inadequate respirators, were exposed to the substance that can cause lung cancer if inhaled, Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administrator John Ysebaert said. An official with Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Xanterra declined to comment on the citations or Kline’s retaliation claim. "Regardless, the safety of our employees and guests remain our highest priority," Xanterra Director of Risk Management Gretchen Langston said in an emailed statement. Xanterra, a subsidiary of the Anschutz Corp., holds contracts to operate tourist facilities in several other national parks, including Crater Lake in Oregon, Death Valley in California, Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Zion in Utah. At Yellowstone, asbestos got loose from old pipe insulation in at least eight rooms in the west wing of the seven-story Old Faithful Inn, which first opened in 1904, according to state OSHA documents Kline provided to AP. Pipes that had broken over the winter began spewing steam last March as workers restored the flow of steam to get the west wing heated up for the first time since fall. That part of the inn needed heat before the plumbing could be turned on, Kline said. Nobody alerted the workers to the asbestos as they tore into walls to reach the ruptures, Kline said. "They should have been aware of it, based on the age of the building and based on a database that exists," he said. "Folks knew that there was asbestos in other rooms in that wing, so it was fair to think that there would be asbestos in the rooms that we worked in." view news article

SILICA

"U.S. Regulators Finalize New Silica Limits for Construction, Other Industries." Reuters, March 24, 2016.

Capping a decades-long effort, U.S. workplace regulators on Thursday announced a final rule to boost protections against occupational exposure to crystalline silica, a carcinogenic dust ubiquitous in construction, foundries and fracking. Some industry groups have vowed to fight it in court and in the U.S. Congress, calling it unnecessary and warning that compliance will cost billions of dollars. Issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the rule lowers the exposure limit for silica dust for the first time since 1971 to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The levels had been set at 250 micrograms for construction and 100 micrograms for other industries. It also requires employers to monitor silica in the workplace, use specific methods to reduce exposure and provide medical exams to workers, among other measures. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez at a news conference at the International Masonry Institute in Bowie, Maryland on Thursday called the deaths of thousands of workers over the last century from silica-related illnesses "a scourge to our nation's history." The rule takes effect immediately, but construction companies have until June 2017 to comply. Other industries were given an additional year. OSHA said 2.3 million U.S. workers are exposed to silica dust, with the vast majority in construction, and that the rule would save an estimated 600 lives and prevent 900 cases of silica-related illnesses annually. Silica has been linked to silicosis, an incurable lung disease, as well as lung cancer, tuberculosis and other maladies. view news article

HAZARDOUS WASTE / MIXED WASTE

"EPA: Radioactive Material in Unexpected Places at Land ll." Associated Press March 24, 2016.

Radioactive material buried near an underground fire at a suburban St. Louis landfill has been found in areas where it was previously not suspected, but there is no increased health risk to residents or workers, Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday. The EPA released the first phase report of an investigation of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton where nuclear waste dating to the Manhattan Project was illegally dumpedin the 1970s. Adding to the concern is the fact that an underground fire is smoldering at the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill. The investigation found "radiologically impacted material" in "areas of the landfill not identified during previous site investigations," but not present in areas previously presumed to contain it, the EPA said. "It is further south than historically identified," Brad Vann, remedial project manager for the EPA, said during a teleconference. He added that health risks associated with the site are unchanged for both nearby residents and on-site workers. No reports of illness have been linked to the nuclear waste. In December, the EPA ordered installation of an isolation barrier to make sure that the underground fire — the cause of which is unknown — does not reach the nuclear waste. The report noted that the fire remains "hundreds of feet" away from the radioactive material, which Vann called a "key piece" that will help guide placement of the barrier. Richard Callow, a spokesman for Republic Services, which owns both landfills, noted that the EPA report found no evidence that the waste is threatened by the fire, or that the fire is moving into West Lake Landfill. "And it has found no new risks to health," Callow said, calling the findings a "good and important step." Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the report "confirms that EPA has never had a clear picture of the extent of contamination at the West Lake landfill, and it is deeply concerning that it took EPA so long to figure that out." West Lake was declared a Superfund site in 1990. In 2008, the EPA announced a remediation plan to cap the nuclear waste with rock, clay and soil, but it drew enough opposition that the EPA reconsidered. The agency has not yet announced a new plan despite criticism from Koster, some lawmakers and residents who feel the agency is moving too slowly. A remediation decision is expected by the end of the year. view news article