↓ Expand ↓

Category → Environmental Protection Agency

CSB report on Chevron refinery fire urges new regulatory approach

On Monday, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released its draft report on a 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif. CSB recommended that the state switch from a “current patchwork of largely reactive and activity-based regulations” to a performance-based system, the agency’s press release says.

CSB released an interim analysis and video of the incident earlier this year. The fire was caused by rupture of a pipe in a crude oil processing unit; the pipe was first identified as corroded in 2002 but was never replaced.

The regulatory approach CSB now recommends is called the “safety case” system and is already used in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Australia. From CSB’s press release:

…the safety case regime requires companies to demonstrate to refinery industry regulators – through a written “safety case report” – how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to “as low as reasonably practicable,” or ALARP. The CSB report notes that the safety case is more than a written document; rather, it represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to the company.

To ensure that a facility’s safety goals and programs are accomplished, a safety case report generated by the company is rigorously reviewed, audited, and enforced by highly trained regulatory inspectors, whose technical training and experience are on par with the personnel employed by the companies they oversee, the draft report says.

That will mean that the regulatory agencies involved will also likely have to pay their employees more. A table in the CSB report notes that refinery personnel have an average annual salary of $187,630, while inspectors for county, state, and federal agencies make $96,875-$125,000 (pdf page 81).

CSB is on the report until Jan. 3. The agency will formally adopt or modify the report at a public hearing in Richmond on Jan. 15.

The Associated Press also reported this week that the Environmental Protection Agency “filed a formal notice against Chevron finding 62 violations of federal environmental laws.” The story goes on to say that EPA may “pursue criminal charges or fines if the company fails to address the violations.” So far there seems to be no mention of the notice on EPA’s main or regional websites.

It’s time to get rid of the “Land Disposal Restriction” form

I may have ranted about this a few times in the past 25 years or so… but why give up now? It is time to get rid of the Land Disposal Restriction (LDR) form.

A little history: Back in 1984, when the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was reauthorized, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the land disposal of hazardous waste and created one of the most useless government-bureaucracy-wasteful forms ever in the process. Generators of hazardous waste, including laboratories, were required to complete a “notification” to their disposal facility telling them what kinds of waste they were providing and what could be done with it according to RCRA. A “one time only” notification is required for each waste stream; but for laboratories that means that each and every lab pack–a drum packed with smaller containers of chemicals–offered for disposal requires the completion of a non-standardized form which runs about 3 to 5 pages in length. Although the disposal facility’s permit already specifies what it is allowed to do, a waste generator still has to tell the facility how to handle the waste. Okay, maybe this form was useful for a year or two… I’ll give EPA 1984 and 1985.

Now all the LDR notification does is waste money. Lots of it. If you assume, conservatively, that one million lab packs are shipped in the U.S. annually (the laboratory I handle has 25 employees and generates about 50 lab packs each year), and the completion of the form for each takes 5 minutes, that’s more than 83,000 manhours a year. With an average billing of a lab pack team (all sitting there either completing the forms or waiting for someone doing it) at about $100/hour, that’s more than $8 million annually that U.S. labs are spending to comply with LDR.

I’ve been trying to get rid of this requirement since 1990, 22 years ago. To take my math a step further, it’s quite likely that U.S. labs have spent well over $100 million complying with this law since 1990. Efforts (not just my own) to implore EPA to get rid of LDR have included repeated petitioning, complaints at EPA public hearings, and meetings with EPA and congressional staff.

So why doesn’t EPA get rid of the forms?  Probably because EPA thinks it has bigger fish to fry. EPA estimated in the early 1990s that laboratory waste represents less than 1 tenth of 1 percent of all hazardous waste, so pretty much any regulatory effort that comes along is going to be aimed at the other 99.9%.

If you agree with me, say so. If you can find any reasonable justification for keeping LDR, I’d love to hear from you.

Chemical Safety at the ACS Southwest Regional Meeting

The ACS Southwest Regional Meeting in Austin last week featured a wide-ranging program that included a strong focus on chemical safety. I presented two workshops on “Laboratory Waste Management” and “How to be an effective chemical hygiene officer,” and there was also a half-day session on “Recent Advances in Chemical Safety” that was well attended.

Of particular interest in the symposium was a talk by Ephraim Massawe, a professor of computer science and industrial technology at Southestern Louisiana University, on a subject I had never really thought about but has wide-ranging implications: “Nanoinformatics for nanoscale chemistry and nanotechnology: Opportunities for preventing occupational exposures in nanoenabled remediation.” While most discussion of nanomaterial safety focuses on air exposures, Massawe pointed out that there are safety considerations for environmental remediation of Superfund and other abandoned waste sites using slurries containing iron, silver, and other metal-based nanomaterials. Obviously, the  surface area advantages of nanomaterials present many opportunities in the remedial field, and evidence suggests there have been a number of successful applications. The costs, according to data Massawe presented, are significantly lower than traditional pump and treat and other common technologies.  Since there is so little real toxicological data available for nanomaterials in general, and most of what is available is focused on air exposure, what are the implications of application to injection wells? Is there potential for adverse impact on groundwater supplies? Are aquifers at risk or is the earth capable of filtering these materials when in liquid form as a slurry? It was an interesting talk and clearly there are challenges for those keeping an eye on the safety of nanomaterials.

A big Texas shout-out should go to Texas State University, San Marcos, chemistry professor Linette Watkins and Applied Nanotech safety officer Betsy Shelton for a very successful regional meeting that attracted over 1100 registrants. A special treat was hearing Nobel Laureate Robert Curl from Rice University tell the story behind the discovery of fullerenes, aka “Bucky balls” (and why that’s the common name for C60 instead of soccerenes or footballenes!).

The new Chemical Data Reporting rule

We have yet another acronym from the Environmental Protection Agency: the Chemical Data Reporting rule (CDR). This replaces the Toxic Substance Control Act Inventory Update Rule (hold your breath – TSCA IUR). The rule requires manufacturers and importers to provide new and updated information on current production volume, manufacturing site-related data, and processing and use-related data for a larger number of chemicals than previously listed.

The reporting threshold has also been dropped from 25,000 lbs to 2500 lbs for many products. EPA says the improved information will allow it to better identify and manage risks associated with chemicals. The new reports will be required every four years instead of five.

For the first time, EPA is requiring companies to submit the information through the Internet, using EPA’s electronic reporting tool. According to the agency, online reporting will improve both data quality and EPA’s ability to use the data, as well as make it more accessible to the public.

It is this last part I’m not sure about, especially since the agency has made it more difficult for corporations to make confidentiality claims. What data is going to be made available and how? Is there a point where the volume of data available is so vast that it’s meaningless?

I also have to ask where and how importers in particular are going to get some of their data. For instance, EPA requires that:

“if a manufacturer (or importer) can’t provide the information specified because the reportable chemical substance is manufactured using a reactant having a specific chemical identity that is unknown to the manufacturer and claimed as confidential by its supplier, the manufacturer must use e-CDRweb to ask the supplier of the confidential reactant to provide the correct chemical identity of the confidential reactant directly to EPA in a joint submission.”

Uh, I’m missing something here. What if the supplier refuses to provide that information? The wording suggests simply that manufacturers and importers must “ask.”

Companies will be required to start following the new reporting requirements in the next data submission period, which will occur February 1, 2012, to June 30, 2012.

My next blog post will be from the ACS National Meeting in Denver!