pollution

Introducing Our New Compliance Website

By Marion Herz

As chief of staff for EPA’s Office of Compliance, job #1 for me is protecting people’s health and their communities. Our office makes sure everyone plays by the same rules when it comes to the environment.

We recently launched our new compliance website to make it easier to stay informed about our work and to share tools that can help companies and others follow the law. The goal of our site is to help everyone understand what we do, why we do it, and how.

Here are a few of the features you should know about:

  • At the heart of our compliance program are inspections of facilities. The new site explains how they are conducted. Sometimes these inspections identify cases where we can better protect people from harmful pollution. For example, our inspections recently found that contractors with Lowe’s Home Centers were not using lead-safe work practices. A settlement in that case requires them to follow laws designed to protect children and families from dangerous lead exposure.
  • We all want to know what’s happening in the community and around the country. The new site provides easy access to ECHO, an online tool my colleague Rebecca Kane wrote about recently. ECHO lets you analyze compliance and enforcement data through dashboards, maps and charts. It also gives you access to other EPA tools designed to identify pollution sources, including greenhouse gases, wastewater discharges and toxic chemicals.
  • For those who work in a regulated facility, the new site helps you comply with the law. We work with industries to create Compliance Assistance Centers. The Centers offer easy access to plain-language materials, from virtual plant tours to industry-specific information to fact sheets, guides, access to expert help and more. The site also provides resources for workers to help them follow laws and protect themselves and their communities.
  • The site provides information about our Next Generation Compliance program. Next Gen is helping us and our partners take advantage of innovative approaches and advanced technologies to improve the effectiveness of our compliance program. It’s designed to benefit everyone, from companies to local residents, by reducing costs, saving time and improving the accuracy of monitoring and reporting.

I hope you find the new Compliance site informative, easy to use and helpful. We’ll keep it up to date with new information and tools, so check back often!

About the author: Marion Herz is the chief of staff for EPA’s Office of Compliance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water

You likely remember when, this past summer, half a million people who live in the Toledo, Ohio, area were told not to drink the water coming out of their taps for several days. A state of emergency was declared because of a harmful algal bloom, which released toxins into the water that could have made many people ill.

Algal blooms like the one near Toledo are partly caused by an excessive amount of nutrients in the water – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for ecosystems, but too many of them in one place is bad news. Not only do harmful algal blooms pose huge risks for people’s health, they can also cause fish and other aquatic wildlife to die off.

Cleaning up drinking water after a harmful algal bloom can cost billions of dollars, and local economies can suffer. The U.S. tourism industry alone loses close to $1 billion each year when people choose not to fish, go boating or visit areas that have been affected. It’s one of our country’s biggest and most expensive environmental problems. It’s also a particularly tough one, since nutrients can travel from far upstream and in runoff, and collect in quieter waters like lakes or along coastlines. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat

By Lek Kadeli

About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. This lab, recognized across the scientific community, centers its research on the effects of pollution and chemical exposures on the environment – particularly aquatic ecosystems, fish and wildlife.

The results of restoring the prairie have been inspiring. The lab saves $3,500 in maintenance costs every year, and EPA staff get to see butterflies, birds and spring and summer blooms that brighten their workdays. Instead of the periodic roar of lawnmowers, they can stroll the grounds during their breaks in quiet solitude, maybe even catching an occasional glimpse of deer, fox and other wildlife.

These 1.9 acres of prairie have also provided an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive – and this relationship between the pollinators flying about and the habitat of native plants recently caught the attention of the White House. EPA’s Duluth Lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The document supports President Obama’s memorandum recognizing the critical role pollinators play in food production and our economy.

Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to the nation’s agricultural crops each year, but populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined over the past 50 years. EPA has taken a number of actions to protect pollinators – and there’s more to come.

There will be two listening sessions in the Washington, DC metro area, on November 12th and November 17th, where people can provide input into a federal strategy to be developed by the National Pollinator Health Task Force. The task force is co-chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Key parts of the strategy will include a research action plan, public-private partnerships, public education about the importance of a healthy environment that includes pollinators, and ways to increase and improve pollinator habitat. Learn more about the listening sessions here.

The EPA has a vital part to play in protecting bees and other pollinators. Some lucky employees looking for inspiration for their work can get it just by stepping away from their desks for a stroll.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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American Ingenuity on Display at Next Gen Tech Demo Day

•Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about the impact and promise of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy. As a vital program to reduce pollution, build transparency and save costs, it has become a driving force to unleash American ingenuity and innovation. This was certainly evident last week, when EPA hosted a “Next Generation Compliance Advanced Monitoring Tech Demo Day” that convened some of the latest advances in pollution monitoring across the country. Walking through the event with Administrator McCarthy and then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe was so much fun, not to mention inspiring. EPA, academia, industry and non-profit organizations presented so many solutions there, each with a unique approach to solve complex pollution challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of what we saw.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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A Cleaner Environment, a Stronger Economy

When we last heard from the Chamber of Commerce, they were releasing a report that made unfounded assumptions about EPA’s commonsense standards to cut the harmful pollution from power plants. The Washington Post Fact Checker later gave those citing the study a “Four Pinocchio” rating.
Yesterday, the Chamber had another blog post that both misrepresents EPA’s analysis of the economic impact of its regulations and misleads about a recent GAO study.

EPA is keenly aware that our economy is on the rebound and that policy makers are concerned about impacts on employment — that is why we have increased the amount of employment analysis we perform over the last several years, particularly for economically significant rules.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges

Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water

Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Spread The Word: Cutting Your Costs from Climate Change

Green For All and The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Few of us can afford extra expenses. And yet every day we all are paying a high cost for the effects of climate change, and likely don’t even know it. More and more often, what we used to call “natural” disasters aren’t natural at all. They are the costly results of man-made decisions that allow pollution to adversely affect our planet’s temperature, atmosphere and weather. An issue that once seemed of little consequence in our daily lives is now hitting closer to home.

When you’re paying more for heat and air conditioning to stay comfortable during “record high or low” temperatures, you’re paying for climate change. Or when the cost of fruit, vegetables and other food staples goes up because of severe droughts and floods in America’s agricultural zones, you’re paying for climate change. And those of us who’ve had the devastating misfortunate of losing loved ones and homes even to hurricanes, super storms and other natural disasters that seem to occur more frequently know that the costs of climate change are far too high. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Battling Pollution Balances Health Disparities and Brings Economic Opportunity

Pollution isn’t just a barrier to good health; it’s a barrier to good jobs. Too often, low-income families, the inner-city, and communities of color are overburdened by air and water pollution. President Obama has called closing gaps of opportunity a defining challenge of our time. Meeting that challenge means ensuring clean air, clean water, and safe, healthy work environments. It is our duty, on behalf of the people we serve, to provide equal protection for all. That’s what environmental justice is all about.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Mocha Moms President Kuae Mattox and Board Members of Mocha Moms, Inc.

Photo of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Mocha Moms President Kuae Mattox and Board Members of Mocha Moms, Inc.

 

Mocha Moms, Inc. understands that principle, and launched a National Community Service Initiative in 2009 entitled “Closing the Gap in Minority Health, Prosperity and Achievement.” This wide-reaching initiative promotes education and community service throughout 100 chapters in local communities around the country. Mocha Moms, Inc. and the EPA share a commitment to address environmental health risks and expand the conversation within underserved communities. We are thrilled to announce the continuation of the partnership between the EPA and Mocha Moms, Inc. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Superfund in the Big Apple

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City may soon notch a third site on the EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. The candidate is the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site, a defunct business that processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 in Ridgewood, Queens. Wolff-Alport imported monazite sands, rich in thorium, from central Africa. The site is currently radioactively contaminated, although the risks from this residual radioactive contamination do not represent a health concern in the short-term, it could pose a health risk under certain long-term exposure scenarios. Additional investigation and remedial work is needed, so the EPA is proposing that Wolff-Alport be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

A lot of work has already been done at the site. The EPA installed protective shielding on portions of the site that will prevent nearby residents, employees and customers of area businesses from being exposed to elevated gamma radiation from below the surface. The shielding material included concrete, lead and steel, depending on the area.

Reporters often ask me to compare the cleanup work at the two other NYC Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to ease the transport of goods and services. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Sadly, it also became a giant receptacle for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. EPA’s $506 million Gowanus cleanup will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from ruining the cleanup.

Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal share a legacy of urban and industrial pollution as major arteries in the City’s transportation system. In the late 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s, Newtown was replete with sprawling oil refineries, petrochemical plants, factories, plants, sugar refineries, canneries, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Similarly, the creek is negatively impacted by discharges from combined sewer overflows and sewer treatment plants.

Where the Superfund sites differ significantly is in the status, or better said, where they are situated on the Superfund Roadmap.  In 2013, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Gowanus cleanup. This milestone document explains what cleanup alternatives the Agency has decided are the best choice to clean up a Superfund site. In the case of the Gowanus, the decision document came after the EPA held a 120-day period to receive public comments and hosted two formal public meetings. Prior to the Record of Decision, the Agency evaluated more than 1,800 e-mails, letters, postcards and petitions about the cleanup. Conversely, Newtown Creek is a few years away from a Record of Decision. Currently, the creek is undergoing assiduous sampling and study as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. During this phase, the EPA will determine the nature and extent of contamination. This scientific work is expected to be completed in 2018 and would be followed by a proposed cleanup plan for the public’s consideration.

Another NYC site, the Radium Chemical Company site at 60-06 27th Avenue, Queens was on the Superfund list from 1989 to 1995 when the EPA led a successful cleanup of a radioactively-contaminated plant that no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment. It has since been delisted.

Naysayers claim that placing these sites on the Superfund list creates a stigma and is “bad for business.” Protecting human health and the environment is EPA’s first concern, but there is ample evidence to suggest that a Superfund cleanup can help communities and be a boon to local commerce by creating economic opportunity and using innovative technologies to mitigate contamination in a cost-effective manner. A cleanup also gives rise to redevelopment of an area that was once blighted, thus returning a contaminated property to the community and the tax rolls.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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