OTI Environmental News 2016
07 MAY 2016, Issue 856
In this issue:
SPILL
"500 Gallons of Pesticides at Houston site Destroyed by Fire." Associated Press May6, 2016.
"Train Derails in Washington, DC; Leaks Hazardous Chemical."Associated Press, May 1, 2016.
FALL PROTECTION
"Demonstration Simulating Fall from Building Drives Home the Message." Honolulu Star Advertiser, May 5, 2016.
CLEAN AIR / METHANE
"The U.S. has Been Emitting a Lot more Methane Than We Thought, Says EPA." Washington Post, April 15, 2016.
MACHINE GUARDING / YOUNG WORKERS
"OSHA Cites South Elgin Metal Company Where 21-Year-Old Temp Lost 6 Fingers in Accident." Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2016.
SMOKING
"The Federal Government is About to Begin Regulating the Booming E-Cigarette Market." Washington Post, May 5, 2016.
SPILL

"500 Gallons of Pesticides at Houston site Destroyed by Fire." Associated Press May6, 2016.

About 500 gallons of pesticides were stored at a Houston warehouse complex that was consumed by a large blaze and authorities are trying to determine how much ran off into nearby creeks, a fire official said Friday. It's not clear how much of the pesticide was burned in the fire at the warehouse in west Houston on Thursday, nor how much leaked into adjacent waterways, according to fire Capt. Ruy Lozano. But he said the blaze and subsequent runoff had no impact on the water system so drinking water is safe to consume. The fire began Thursday morning in a home and spread to the nearby warehouse complex. Petroleum additives also were stored at the complex and those chemicals fueled the blaze, causing towering plumes of thick billowing smoke that could be seen for miles. Hundreds of students were evacuated from a nearby elementary school. The cause of the initial fire remains unclear. The blaze in the Spring Branch section of west Houston engulfed several businesses in the complex and drew nearly 200 firefighters. No injuries were reported. Environmental contractors were containing the petroleum additives at several points along Spring Branch Creek, but the pesticides are water- soluble and cannot be fully contained or removed from the creek's waters, fire officials said. The waters in the creeks and bayous nearby remain high because of recent heavy rains and floods, and officials expected that will help dilute the pesticides and minimize their effects. Lozano said Friday that the remains of the fire were still creating smoke that could prove harmful if inhaled, so people were being asked to stay away from the area. view news article

"Train Derails in Washington, DC; Leaks Hazardous Chemical."Associated Press, May 1, 2016.

Officials warned Washington D.C. area residents to brace for a potentially slow commute Monday after a CSX freight train derailed near a Metro stop, sending 15 cars off the tracks and spilling hazardous material. The train derailed about 6:40 a.m. Sunday near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station and one of the cars leaked sodium hydroxide, which is used to produce various household products including paper, soap and detergents, CSX said. No injuries were reported and no evacuations were ordered. Mayor Muriel Bowser said no trains will be running on the tracks Monday and CSX couldn't say how long the cleanup might take. "We understand that this a significant inconvenience to commuters and to this community so we're working as quickly as we possibly can with safety as the first priority," CSX spokeswoman Melanie Cost said. Sodium hydroxide, also known as corrosive lye, is a chemical that can irritate and burn the skin and eyes. D.C. Fire and EMS Deputy Chief John Donnelly said officials believe about half of the 15,500 gallon tanker leaked into the rail bed and ground before it was plugged, but no problems have been reported. "At this point all of the air monitoring has been good," Donnelly said. The Federal Railroad Administration issued a statement later Sunday that 15 cars had derailed, nine of them empty and one a general freight car carrying scrap steel. Spokesman Matthew Lehner said five were tank cars, including the one loaded with sodium hydroxide. Officials found that another derailed car had been leaking non-hazardous calcium chloride, CSX said. That leak has also been plugged, the company said. A third car was slowly leaking ethanol from the base of a valve, CSX said. Officials worked to re-seal the valve, and the spilled the ethanol has been contained. It was not immediately clear what caused the derailment of the train, which was heading to Hamlet, North Carolina, from Cumberland, Maryland. Crews were inspecting the tracks, which are used by CSX, the MARC commuter rail system and Amtrak. The Metro tracks are above and adjacent to the derailment site. MARC officials said commuters should expect major services disruptions on the Brunswick Line Monday. MARC said trains likely won't operate past Silver Spring and urged residents to find an alternative way to get to work. The Red Line's Rhode Island Station was also closed and Metro was reporting delays along that line. Metro officials said they hoped to have Red Line service fully restored Sunday evening. Photos tweeted by D.C. Fire and Emergency showed cars in a zigzag line across the tracks. Chris Nellum said he lives nearby and his window looks directly over the tracks. "I thought it was like a semi-truck coming toward the building and when I looked out the window, I saw cars piling up," said Nellum, who had just moved in the night before. "So I'm not even used to hearing trains. It was jarring." Nellum said his girlfriend tried to leave the area and was told to stay put, but she eventually found a way out. "She's an environmentalist so she is very concerned about whatever is leaking," he said. The CSX train had three locomotives and 175 cars, including 94 that were loaded with mixed freight, and 81 that were empty. view news article

FALL PROTECTION

"Demonstration Simulating Fall from Building Drives Home the Message." Honolulu Star Advertiser, May 5, 2016.

ABCD is a pretty simple formula. RD=LL+DD+HH+C isn't so simple. Yet for thousands of construction workers every day in Hawaii and elsewhere, both formulas represent basic — but not always so simple or followed — safety procedures that protect them from falls that could seriously injure or kill them. On Wednesday, several hundred workers on three high-rise projects in Kakaako took an unprecedented timeout from work to witness simulated impacts from falling just 14 feet — a drop that can seriously mess up someone even if they have a safety line that catches them before they hit anything hard. "You take an impact even without hitting the ground," said Brad Foster, regional manager for 3M Capital Safety, a company that staged the 30-minute demonstration by dropping a steel weight to simulate differences between the force a 310-pound person absorbs if their fall was arrested by a taut line, a shock-absorbing line or an auto-decelerating line. Taut safety lines were prohibited in the industry in the 1990s, Foster said, because the impact on a body from the line arresting a fall can be 2,500 to 3,500 pounds of force. "People used to get hurt bad," he said. The legal limit now is 1,800 pounds of force, and safety lanyards are required for workers doing jobs 6 feet off the ground or higher. Still, falls are the biggest killer in construction because of improper or absent equipment use. Foster said seeing a simulated fall makes a stronger impact on workers than classroom presentations, work-site briefings or safety cards. 3M Capital Safety also handed out cards printed with the easy-to-remember ABCD acronym for anchorage, body harness, connectors and descent rescue. Descent rescue refers to equipment used to lower an injured worker to the ground. The other formula for safety, RD=LL+DD+HH+C, shows what workers need to know to calculate whether their fall-prevention equipment will stop them before they hit nearest obstruction. The required distance (RD) for a safety lanyard to be effective equals the lanyard length (LL) plus deceleration distance (DD) plus worker height (HH) plus clearance (C) from the ground or obstacle. Getting this math right could be the difference between life and death. Hence the demonstration to stress the issue's importance. Milton Damas, an ironworker on the Waiea condominium project on Auahi Street makai of the Ward Village movie theaters, said seeing the demonstration was valuable, especially for some co-workers he knows who may be too stubborn to take the message to heart. "Hooking up safety-wise is very important being an ironworker up high," he said. Added fellowiron worker Tui Tuiloma: "It's a must, or you going die." Rich Baldwin, national director of health, safety and environment for Denver-based PCL Construction, said the gathering Wednesday is the first instance he knows of where so many workers from unrelated general contractors convened for such a demonstration. Participating firms were Nordic`` PCL, which is building Waiea, Albert C. Kobayashi Inc., which is building Anaha, and Layton Construction Co., which is building Ae‘o. All three projects are condo towers on adjacent blocks at Ward Village. The construction firms organized the event as part of a national safety stand-down campaign held this week by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to prevent construction falls. OSHA says fatalities from falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers, accounting for 345 of 899 industry fatalities in 2014 nationally. "Those deaths were preventable," the agency said on its fall-prevention website, adding that fall-safety violations were among the top 10 citations issued by OSHA that year. view news article

CLEAN AIR / METHANE

"The U.S. has Been Emitting a Lot more Methane Than We Thought, Says EPA." Washington Post, April 15, 2016.

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a major upward revision to its estimates of total emissions of methane, a hard-hitting if short-lived greenhouse gas, in an annual inventory that the agency submits to the United Nations. The revisions will further up the stakes in a political battle over regulations that the agency is preparing to issue that could affect operations at thousands of oil and gas wells. "Data on oil and gas show that methane emissions from the sector are higher than previously estimated," said the agency in a news release upon the report's release. "The oil and gas sector is the largest emitting-sector for methane and accounts for a third of total U.S. methane emissions." Prior inventories, such as last year's report, which provided data through the year 2013, had suggested that the U.S.'s highest source of methane was ruminant animals like cattle and other livestock, rather than the oil and gas industry. The agency revised upward total methane emissions in the U.S. for the year 2013 from 636.3 million metric tons to 721.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, driven in significant part by increased estimates of emissions from oil and gas operations. And the overall methane emissions number is still higher for 2014, the most recent year in the inventory, at 730.8 million metric tons. "What EPA essentially is doing is restating the numbers using the better data, that has been collected from the field," said Mark Brownstein, who heads the oil and gas program at the Environmental Defense Fund, which has focused heavily on the methane issue in recent years. "What has long been thought is that emissions in the field are higher than what had been historically reported in EPA's emissions inventory, and now, when you use that better data, it is higher." Some of the most substantial upward revisions involved emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems across the country — an emissions source that has increasingly been targeted by environmentalists, who say that the boom in domestic oil and gas production has driven greater methane emissions. The EPA revised its methane numbers upward for multiple years in its inventory. According to the agency, the average increase per year due to its revisions was 12.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents for natural gas systems (now the largest category of methane emissions), and 20.7 million metric tons for petroleum systems. Methane totals are reported in units of "carbon dioxide equivalents" so that scientists can better make an apples-to-apples comparison between different greenhouse gases. Methane is known to have a much larger warming effect than carbon dioxide, but only over a short time period, whereas carbon dioxide has a far longer time of residence in the atmosphere. "The big picture is that, yes, EPA's estimate of methane emissions has increased, most likely due to them receiving better data," said Kristin Igusky, an expert on methane with the World Resources Institute. "Because methane emissions are greater than we previously thought, it's that much more important that policies are put into place to bring emissions down in this category," she said. It's important to emphasize that the latest upward revisions only account for a relatively small fraction of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which were predominantly in the form of carbon dioxide, rather than methane. Overall, emissions increased about 1 percent from the year 2013 to 2014, the last year in the newest inventory, according to the EPA. Yet the upward methane revisions were still substantial when considered as a percentage. For instance, an analysis provided by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found that if you compare oil and gas emissions for the year 2014 in the EPA's latest inventory, with emissions for 2013 in the last year's inventory, then there is a 34 percent increase — and the group said that 31 percent of that is "solely due to methodological change." A growing body of scientific research has suggested of late that EPA's prior estimates of methane emissions might be too low. "An overall increase is appropriate, given what we've been seeing for the last few years," said Stanford University researcher Rob Jackson, who has published a number of these studies. The EDF's Brownstein observed that, "Overall, these numbers refute the industry claim that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry have been declining over time." But a major industry group, the American Petroleum Institute, disputed the numbers Friday. "They've made a significant modification to the inventory estimates, and we believe that it is seriously flawed," said Kyle Isakower, the group's vice president of regulatory and economic policy. Concerns about methane emissions from leaking oil and gas operations and systems has led to more and more emphasis on controlling these sources, fast, to lessen warming in the short term. President Obama and Canadian premier Justin Trudeau just jointly announced plans to seek a cut in oil and gas methane emissions by 40 or 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. But if the new EPA data are right, 2012 levels themselves were considerably higher than previously thought. view news article

MACHINE GUARDING / YOUNG WORKERS

"OSHA Cites South Elgin Metal Company Where 21-Year-Old Temp Lost 6 Fingers in Accident." Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2016.

A South Elgin metal company has been cited and fined $70,000 by federal regulators after a 21-year-old temporary worker lost six fingers in a gruesome accident. The worker's ring, middle and index fingers on both hands and part of his right pinky finger were amputated when his hands became caught as he hand-fed parts into an aluminum press at Custom Aluminum Products on Nov. 4, according to the U.S Dept. of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The man had worked at the company for just four weeks. The amputation could have been prevented if proper safety guards had been fitted, according to OSHA. In October 2014, Custom Aluminum Products was cited and fined $6,750 for failing to install safety guards at its Genoa plant, OSHA records state. OSHA inspectors found the company's failure to fix the problem in South Elgin was "willful" — the worst kind of violation of workplace safety standards. "It's hard to imagine the agony and pain this young man suffered when six of his fingers were amputated," said Jake Scott, OSHA's area director in Aurora, in a news release. "His life is now forever altered because the press lacked required safe guarding devices. These devices would have prevented his hands from coming in contact with the operating parts of the machine." Amputations accounted for a large proportion of severe workplace injuries last year, the first in which employers were required to report hospitalization, amputation or loss of a worker's eye within 24 hours. Illinois employers reported 173 amputations in 2015. Nationwide, there were 2,644 amputations, OSHA said. Custom Aluminum Products executives did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Within the last two years, the company also has been cited for allowing untrained workers to test electrical equipment without proper safety gear and for subjecting workers to unsafe sound levels. As of Wednesday, no lawsuits connected with the amputation case appear to have been filed in Kane County or federal court. view news article

SMOKING

"The Federal Government is About to Begin Regulating the Booming E-Cigarette Market." Washington Post, May 5, 2016.

The federal government on Thursday banned the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18 and required manufacturers to disclose their ingredients and submit their products to the government for approval. The Food and Drug Administration's action, which represents the first time the government has regulated the booming market of e-cigarettes, seeks to clamp down on devices that have become increasingly popular, especially among young people, even as they have been subject to almost no oversight. The agency, which first said it intended to regulate e-cigarettes in 2014, also imposed the regulations on cigars, hookahs and pipe tobacco. The effort is a response to long-standing concerns about what health experts call a "Wild West" atmosphere involving the multibillion-dollar e-cigarette industry. The battery-powered devices heat up flavored, nicotine-laced liquid, turning it into a vapor that the user inhales, or "vapes." Easily carried and offering flavors from bubble gum to mocha to margarita, the devices are used by many Americans, but most notably by middle and high schoolers. The number of young people using e-cigarettes now exceeds the number who smoke traditional cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 5.3 percent of middle school students reported in 2015 that they had used e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days. For high schoolers, the figure has risen to 16 percent. In 2015, 3 million middle- and high-school students reported using e-cigarettes, according to the FDA and the CDC. "As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap," said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of health and human services, in announcing the rules on Thursday. "All of this is creating a new generation of Americans who are at risk of addiction." She said, "As a nation, we have agreed for several years that nicotine does not belong in the hands of children." Industry officials reacted angrily to many of the rules, warning that requiring pre-market approval could decimate the many small businesses that produce e-cigarettes and could ultimately deprive consumers of what they say is a less harmful alternative to conventional cigarettes. Public health experts largely welcomed the rules, saying they were long overdue. Some said the FDA should have gone much further, banning the use of e-cigarette flavors and placing curbs on advertising. "FDA passed up critical opportunities in this rule by failing to prohibit the sale of tobacco products coming in flavors like cotton candy," said Benard Dreyer, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. But despite the landmark nature of the effort, the FDA action is unlikely to settle an intensifying debate over whether e-cigarettes are a gateway to traditional tar-laden, chemical-filled cigarettes or an effective way to help the long-addicted quit smoking. David Levy, a professor in the department of oncology at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, argued there is "strong evidence" that e-cigarettes could help people stop smoking, so the agency should be cautious about derailing the industry. But many experts, including the FDA's top tobacco official, Mitch Zeller, said there isn't enough scientific evidence about the long-term health effects of e- cigarettes and also about whether they are effective as smoke-cessation tools. The new regulations generally require manufacturers whose products went on sale after Feb. 15, 2007, to get approval from the agency to continue selling their products. These reviews will allow the FDA to scrutinize ingredients, product design and health risks, the agency said. It added that it will allow the companies to keep selling their products for two years while they submit their applications and then for an additional year while the FDA reviews the submissions. Zeller told reporters that it would initially cost companies "several hundred thousand dollars" to apply for FDA approval, but that could change over time. Representatives of the e-cigarette industry have supported bans on sales to minors but argued Thursday that some of the rules put forward by the agency will endanger the market for products that have the potential to help people move away from traditional tobacco. "These new regulations create an enormously cost-prohibitive regulatory process for manufacturers to market their products to adult smokers and vapers," Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, the largest industry trade group, said in a statement ."It also limits access to the 40 million adult smokers in the U.S. yet to make the switch to vaping and cripples a multi-billion dollar, job-creating industry, the majority of which are made of small businesses." The FDA's new youth-access restrictions, which take effect in 90 days, compel retailers to verify the age of purchasers by photo identification, to put health warnings on their labels and to bar sales of the products in vending machines that are accessible to minors. Many states have such restrictions, but federal officials said enforcement wasn't always consistent. The rules also ban the distribution of free samples. Officials suggested they might eventually consider banning flavors in cigars and e-cigarettes, but said the topic needs more research. Thursday's regulations also bring a range of other products under federal regulation, including hookahs and regular and the more expensive, premium cigars. The International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, a trade group, said on its website Thursday that "the FDA's regulation of premium cigars, if left unchecked, would have a devastating impact on retailers and manufacturers alike." It added that consumers would "have less choice." And they said the rule could hurt the thousands of Americans who work in the industry. But Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, praised the FDA for including a wide range of cigars, including premium cigars, saying "these products pose no less a health risk than other cigars." In recent weeks, the e-cigarette industry has gotten support from some public health experts. In late April, a group of tobacco-control experts, writing in the journal Addiction, urged the FDA to be "open-minded" about e-cigarettes, saying that the products can result in a reduction in traditional smoking. And recently, the Royal College of Physicians concluded that e- cigarettes were likely to be beneficial to public health in Britain. But many anti-smoking advocates disagree. They say that e-cigarettes could be harmful, that the long-term health risks are unknown and that companies are marketing their products to younger and younger teens. They say the companies are using the same tactics and themes that the traditional cigarette makers used years ago. "It's about time that we stem the tide of these e-cigarettes," said Roy Herbst, chief of oncology at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital. "The momentum has been so much in favor of their use." The FDA's authority to regulate the products stems from a 2009 law that gave the agency broad power over traditional cigarettes, as well as jurisdiction over other tobacco-related products. In the years since, states and municipalities have taken it upon themselves to limit the use of e-cigarettes, including banning them in public places and prohibiting sales to minors. Just this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown banned "vaping" in public places such as theaters and restaurants as part of a package of bills that raised the state's legal smoking age to 21. view news article