chemicals

Chemical Facility Safety is a Shared Commitment

Recently I attended meetings in Austin, TX organized by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS). CCPS is part of the not-for-profit American Institute of Chemical Engineers that was formed 30 years ago in the wake of the Bhopal, India chemical release tragedy, to eliminate chemical facility major process safety incidents.

During the first session, I was asked about collaborative opportunities between EPA and CCPS to advance CCPS’s Vision 20/20. Vision 20/20 looks into the not-too-distant future to describe how the right process safety can be delivered when it is collectively and strongly supported by industry, regulators, academia, and the community worldwide. I identified a number of areas where EPA can collaborate with stakeholders to reduce chemical facility releases and deliver Vision 20/20. For example, Vision 20/20 calls for a range of stakeholders to work together “to effectively remove barriers to reporting of incidents, develop reporting databases, and promote mutual understanding of risks and effective process safety systems.” EPA strongly supports this concept and made it a core recommendation in the report for the president, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment. This federal interagency working group report resulted from President Obama’s Executive Order 13650,Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.

There is a tremendous nexus between Vision 20/20 and the report for the president. The federal working group identified the shared commitment for safety between companies, local preparedness officials, responders, federal government and state government that requires engaging through mutual sharing of information and mutual understanding of risks. This relates to another important element of Vision 20/20: Enhanced Stakeholder Knowledge, which “allows the public to effectively challenge industry to prevent process safety incidents.” I believe that EPA can be a tremendous partner to CCPS to advance this goal and simultaneously advance the commitments articulated in the report for the president.

Other areas that I highlighted from CCPS’ Vision 2020 included the need for strenuous verification by independent parties of engineered systems and process safety management to help companies evaluate their process safety programs as a supplement to internal audits. A committed culture includes executive, managers, supervisors and all employees, as well as vibrant management systems that emphasize vulnerability of accidents and enable a consistent adherence to process safety.    As documented in the report for the president, accidents continue to occur that cause death and property damage.  These incidents are infrequent but the consequences are severe to local communities. Vision 20/20’s emphasis on a vibrant management system engrained throughout an organization based on incident vulnerability is welcome and would advance chemical plant safety. One strategy identified in Vision 20/20 is enhanced application and sharing of lessons learned: “to reduce incidents, everyone needs to continually learn”.  I agree that we learn from accidents, near misses, industry benchmarking and success stories.

The collaboration with CCPS to advance the operationalization of Vision 20/20 is precisely the type of actions envisioned by the commitment in the report for the president. The dialogue needs to continue. As duly noted in the title of the report, chemical facility safety and security is a shared commitment. Through the combined efforts of all stakeholders, we can make a positive difference in, near, and around chemical facilities.

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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How you can help people make safer choices every day

By David DiFiore

How many people can say they really love their job? Lucky for me, I’m one of those people. As part of the Safer Choice Program the work I do helps people make safer choices for their families, pets, and the environment every day.

Safer Choice is our label for safer chemical-based products, like all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, degreasers, and many others.  Each day, consumers, custodians, cleaning staffs, and others use these products, and families, building occupants, and visitors are exposed to them.  The Safer Choice program ensures that labeled products—and every ingredient in them—meet the program’s stringent health and environmental criteria—and perform well, too.

Working in the Safer Choice Program, I have the privilege of seeing the results of our work in many tangible forms in real-time, every day. When I go to the grocery store and see a labeled product on the shelf, I know that the work I do helps protect people, animals and the environment from toxic chemicals.

So how can you help people make safer choices?

Also, if you’re interested in helping people make safer choices across the country, take a look at two new Safer Choice job announcements.  We’re looking to build our team to take on the enormous opportunities in labeling safer personal care products.  Perhaps we’ll get to share the adventure.

Learn more about Safer Choice

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About the Author: David DiFiore has worked for the Safer Choice Program since 1997. Before that, David worked in several other EPA programs, including the New Chemicals Program, where he learned the science and art of identifying and promoting safer chemicals and products.

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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Poison Prevention Starts with You – Protect Your Kids and Pets

By: Administrator Gina McCarthy & Elliot Kaye, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission

There are some things in life we can’t control – like traffic or our favorite sports team’s performance. But there are plenty of things we can control—and protecting our kids from poison is one.

This is National Poison Prevention Week, which leads into the start of spring cleaning. It’s important to remember that kids and pets are more sensitive to chemicals than adults. Every second in the United States, there are 25 calls to poison control centers, with the majority related to children. Each year, an estimated 80,000 children go to the emergency room with poisonings. Almost 75 percent of those are from sources in their homes. Let’s make sure our loved ones are not part of those statistics.

Most of us know that household cleaners and sanitizers, insect repellents and medicines can pose a serious poison risk for children. Some of these products are colorful and appealing, and could look like candy or toys to young children. But other poison hazards around our homes might be less familiar. Here are three for you to be especially aware of:

  1. Coin sized batteries in TV remotes and other electronics can cause chemical burns if lodged in the throat. With encouragement from the government, battery manufacturers are working on a design solution that would prevent the deadly poisoning hazard with coin cell/button batteries. But, they are not there yet.
  2. Exposure to the contents of single-load liquid laundry packets have led to at least one tragic death and thousands of children being treated in emergency rooms. At the urging of the government, manufacturers are developing a safety standard that would make it harder for children to get their hands on these poisonous packets. They, too, are not there yet.
  3. Old mercury thermometers can break and must be properly disposed of and cleaned up. Also, mercury is USED IN TRACE AMOUNTS IN [an essential part of] CFL lightbulbs. It allows a bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (i.e., not broken) or in use. If a bulb breaks, follow these important steps: http://www2.epa.gov/cfl/cleaning-broken-cfl.

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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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Farmers Shift Towards Virtually Non-Toxic Alternatives for Pest Control

When you’ve had mosquitos in your yard, you might have lit a citronella candle, or you might have used some garlic oil to reduce the number of aphids in your garden. At some point we’ve all done something to reduce the number of pests in our environment. When their populations get out of control they can spread and cause disease, and destroy farmers’ crops.

There’s a whole range of what we call biological pesticides, or “biopesticides,” that are made of naturally occurring substances derived from animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and minerals – like citronella, garlic oil and acetic acid. The great news about biopesticides is that they are virtually non-toxic to people and the environment. They usually target specific pests, reducing risks to beneficial insects, birds and mammals. Even better, they’re becoming more common – and that means that safer alternatives to control pests are becoming more widely available.

Biopesticides have long been used in organic farming, but their use in conventional farming is growing now as well. We created a new division focused on raising the profile of biopesticides and helping them to get licensed. Our Biopesticides Division has registered more than 430 biological active ingredients and, in partnership with the USDA, awarded over 70 grants across the country to research biopesticides for specialty and minor crops. Our more efficient registration process for biopesticides helps keep up with demand. We’re helping agriculture to shift towards biopesticides, and minimizing risks to people and the environment.

The use of biopesticides in U.S. agriculture has more than quadrupled lately, going from 900,000 pounds of active ingredient applied in 2000 to 4.1 million pounds in 2012, the most recent year for which we have data. Nearly 18 million acres are being treated with biopesticides, producing crops that are better for people’s health and the planet. Many farmers use them as part of their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs so they can rely less on higher-risk pesticides and effectively produce higher crop yields and quality with lower impact on the environment.

I’m thrilled to see a significant and steady increase in the registration of new biopesticide products as well as demand from farmers, growers, retailers and consumers. We have long been committed to encouraging the development and use of low-risk biopesticides as alternatives to conventional chemical pesticides, and our commitment and efforts will continue over time.

For more about our efforts with pesticides, visit: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/.

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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Time for a Change: The DfE Safer Product Label

By David DiFiore

Change isn’t easy. Whether it’s starting a new job, moving to a new city, or even something simple like trying a new laundry detergent, change often involves parting with the familiar and embracing the unknown. But sometimes change is necessary—to get to a better place. As a founding member of the Design for the Environment Safer Product Labeling Program, there are many aspects of the program I’d never want to change, like our ability to understand and advance safer chemistry—the use of chemical ingredients in products that help protect people, other living things, and the environment. However, one prominent feature of the program—the label shown on products that meet our program’s stringent standards—is getting a much needed makeover.

As the DfE program has grown stronger and more valuable, our label, with its seventies-era graphic, increasingly appeared behind-the-times. Inarguably familiar and comfortable to some (like me), the program—with strong encouragement from our partners, especially in the consumer product sector — realized that the time for a change had come. Even our name, “Design for the Environment,” only tells half the mission, leaving human health protection unrepresented. And a globe with longitude and latitude lines is not only dated, but is hard to reproduce and even harder to reduce in size to legibly fit product labels.

So, about a year-and-a-half-ago we launched our logo redesign. We wanted to take our time to ensure that all our partners and stakeholders—as well as the general public—had an opportunity to weigh in on the draft designs. Redesigns are infrequent and listening to commenters is key to getting it right; for us, that means a logo that not only better communicates our mission, is modern and easy to manipulate, but also eye-catching and memorable.

After all, we have high hopes for the new logo and its ability to propel our efforts with retailers and growth in the consumer product sector. A logo that connects with consumers will make it easy to spot safer products, again and again.

Are you interested in helping us redesign our DfE Safer Product Label? Do you look for safer products in stores? Whether you’re familiar with our program or not, we hope you will join us for a Twitter Chat on the DfE Safer Product Label, on October 22 at 2:00pm EDT by following @EPAlive and using the #saferproducts hashtag. Ask us a question, share your ideas, and join the conversation on safer products.

Learn more about Design for the Environment
Learn more about the DfE Label Redesign
Connect with us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/epadfe

About the Author: David DiFiore joined the Design for the Environment program in 1997. Before that, David worked in several other EPA programs, including the New Chemicals Program, where he learned the science and art of identifying and promoting safer chemicals and products.

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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Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

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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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Who Are This Year’s Innovators Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Energy Efficiency?

The 2014 winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Awards have done it again. These scientists are helping to crack the code and solve some of the most challenging problems facing our modern society. They are turning climate risk and other problems into a business opportunity, spurring innovation and investment. They are reducing waste – energy, chemicals and water waste – while cutting manufacturing costs, and sparking investments.
Take a look at some of this year’s promising innovations:

New Bus Fuel Could Reduce Greenhouse Gases by 82%. Making and burning this new fuel could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel. Amyris (in California) has engineered a yeast to make a renewable fuel replacement for petroleum diesel. Since carbon pollution increases our costs in health care and other impacts, this technology could save tens of thousands of dollars each year.

New LED Lighting Material Could Save you 36% on Energy Bills. If QD Vision, Inc’s (in Massachusetts) technology were used in just 10% of flat-screen TVs, we could save 600 million kilowatt-hours worldwide every year – enough to provide electricity for 50,000 homes for one year! Even better, producing these materials avoids the need for about 40,000 gallons of solvents per year. This technology brings massive energy savings and is good for the planet, with reduced carbon emissions, heavy metals emissions, and less use of toxic chemicals.

New Safer Firefighting foam. This new foam doesn’t contain persistent toxic chemicals that can accumulate in our blood and that of animals. The Solberg Company (in Wisconsin) used surfactants and sugars that can fight fires more effectively than before. One of the world’s largest oil and gas companies will use it to fight fuel fires and spills. The product works better and is safer – a win-win for industry and for protecting our health and the environment.

Making Pills While Reducing Chemicals and Waste. The manufacturing process for pills can create toxic waste. Professor Shannon S. Stahl at the University of Wisconsin has discovered a way to safely use oxygen instead of hazardous chemicals in a step commonly used while making medicine. If brought to market, these methods could have a big impact on the industry, reducing chemicals, reducing waste, and saving companies time and money.

Making Soaps, Laundry Detergents, Food Products, and Fuels While Reducing Energy and Water Use, Waste, and Impacts on Forests. These everyday products can now be produced with much less energy, water, and waste, thus saving money. Solazyme, Inc. (in California) has developed novel oils from sugar and engineered algae in a way that significantly reduces the environmental effects that typically occur in producing and processing some oils. Also, the company’s palm-oil equivalent can help reduce deforestation and greenhouse gases that can occur from cultivation of palm oil.

As you can see, the Presidential Green Chemistry Award winners are solving real-world problems through scientific innovations. These prestigious awards are challenging American researchers and innovators to use their talent to improve our health, environment, and the economy.

During the 19 years of EPA’s Green Chemistry program, we have received more than 1,500 nominations and presented awards to 98 technologies. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air.

An independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute formally judged the 2014 submissions from among scores of nominated technologies and made recommendations to EPA for the 2014 winners. The 2014 awards event will be held in conjunction with an industry partners’ roundtable.

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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Thanking America’s Sustainable Farmers

By Christina Badaracco

While working on education and outreach in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Ocean, and Watersheds, I have been particularly inspired by our work with agriculture. As an environmentalist and a foodie, I love learning about the connection between healthy food and sustainable agriculture, and I am always eagerly looking to share that information with the public. This is why I’m excited about our efforts to interview and feature for the American public “farmer heroes,” who manage the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution on their farms and grow America’s food supply in a sustainable manner.

Through our “Farmer Hero” campaign, and through my own personal purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, I am supporting farmers who protect local land and water resources while undertaking the critical role of producing America’s food supply.

I was first exposed to the world of sustainable farming in college, and have since been inspired by the videos and writing of Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia and a leader in the local food movement. I had the pleasure of visiting his farm last fall, and seeing the clever contraptions (e.g., the Eggmobile and Gobbledygo) and beautiful scenery I had read about in his books. Views of dirt-covered pigs, running around in the woods; ripe red tomatoes, grown without chemicals; and the engaging storytelling of our host were a treat and well worth the drive out from D.C.

In late May, I was thrilled to return to the area to meet other farmers who practice sustainable agriculture. I visited Robert Schreiber of Bell’s Lane Farm, and saw his on-farm composting operations and sales. I also met Gerald Garber from Cave View Farms, and learned how his livestock fencing and no-till farming reduce pollution runoff.

It is a delight to meet these farmers who have offered to share their stories: their goals for their properties and families, their innovative approaches for managing nutrients, and above all, their willingness to protect their local environment and the many lands downstream (http://www2.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/farmer-heroes-manage-nutrients-farm). I am encouraged to see EPA building better relationships with farmers to protect the same land, water, and food on which we all rely.

To Mr. Salatin and the other farmers who read this blog; who are conserving their resources, protecting their local waterways, and raising their animals and crops sustainably; and whom I one day hope to meet, we thank you. You are our heroes.

About the author: Christina Badaracco has worked in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds since 2012. She works on communication and outreach projects regarding nutrient pollution, and is particularly interested in sustainable agriculture.

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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EPA Takes Important Step in Assessing Chemical Risk

Earlier today, EPA made public a final risk assessment on a number of uses of the chemical, Trichloroethylene, or TCE, as it is more commonly known. The risk assessment indicated health risks from TCE to consumers using spray aerosol degreasers and spray fixatives used for artwork. It can pose harm to workers when TCE is used as a degreaser in small commercial shops and as a stain remover in dry cleaners. It has been more than 28 years since we last issued a final risk assessment for an existing chemical.

EPA conducted the TCE risk assessment as part of a broader effort to begin assessing chemicals and chemical uses that may pose a concern to human health and the environment under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is this country’s 38-year old chemicals management legislation, which is badly in need of modernization

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Advancing Chemical Testing by the Thousands

Studying thousands of chemicals at a time with the use of high-tech computer screening models and automated, often robot-assisted processes sounds like science fiction. But it’s not. EPA scientists are doing just that, leading the advancement of “high-throughput screening,” fast, efficient processes used to expose hundreds of living cells or isolated proteins to chemicals and then screen them for changes in biological activity—clues to potential adverse health effects related to chemical exposure.

This scientific advance is positioned to transform how we understand the safety of chemicals going forward. Twenty years ago, using high-throughput screening to test chemicals for potential human health risks seemed like technology that belonged in a science fiction television series rather than in real life. 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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