Nanoremediation of soil contaminated with Arsenic and Mercury

Researchers in Spain recently published a paper describing the utilization of nanoremediation technology to clean-up soil at the Brownfield site heavily contaminated with arsenic and mercury.

The research draws on a several lab-scale experiments that have shown the use of nanoscale zero-valent iron (nZVI) to be effective in reducing metal(loid) availability in polluted soils.


The core-shell model of zero-valent iron nanoparticles. The core consists of mainly zero-valent iron and provides the reducing power for reactions with environmental contaminants. The shell is largely iron oxides/hydroxides formed from the oxidation of zero-valent iron. The shell provides sites for chemical complex formation (e.g., chemosorption).

The researchers evaluated the capacity of nZVI for reducing the availability of As and Hg in brownfield soils at a pilot scale, and monitored the stability of the immobilization of these contaminants over a 32 month period. The researchers contend that their study is the first to apply nZVI to metal(loid)-polluted soils under field conditions.

In the study, two sub-areas (A and B) that differed in pollution load were selected, and a 5 m2 plot was treated with 2.5% nZVI (by weight) in each case (Nanofer 25S, NanoIron). In sub-area A, which had a greater degree of pollution, a second application was performed eight months after the first application.

Overall, the treatment significantly reduced the availability of both arsenic and (As) and mercury ((Hg), after only 72 h, although the effectiveness of the treatment was highly dependent on the degree of initial contamination.

Sub-area B (with a lower level of pollution) showed the best and most stable immobilization results, with As and Hg in toxicity characteristics leaching procedure (TCLP) extracts decreasing by 70% and 80%, respectively. In comparison, the concentrations of As and Hg in sub-area A decreased by 65% and 50%, respectively.

Based on the findings, the researchers contend that the use of nZVI at a dose of 2.5% appears to be an effective approach for the remediation of soils at this brownfield site, especially in sub-area B.

Investment Firm commits $1 billion toward innovative companies building a sustainable economy

Generation Investment Management LLP, with offices in London and San Francisco, recently announced the close of its $1 billion Generation IM Sustainable Solutions Fund III. The monies in the fund will be invested in innovative companies with high-growth potential. Investments will be in the range of $50-150 million.

“We believe that we are at the early stages of a technology-led sustainability revolution, which has the scale of the industrial revolution, and the pace of the digital revolution,” said Al Gore, Chairman and Co-Founder.

The Generation Sustainable Solutions Fund will focus on investments in growth-stage businesses with well-established technology and commercial traction in three areas:

1. Planetary health: low carbon solutions transforming mobility, food, energy, and enterprise

2. People health: enabling health outcomes and a lower-cost, accessible healthcare system

3. Financial inclusion:supporting accessto finance and an equitable future of work.

“Sustainability is about both what a company does (the products and services it sells) and how a company operates,” said Lila Preston, Partner and Co-Head of the Growth Equity platform. “A hallmark of our investment approach is that we take a systems-level view and leverage our long-term horizon and deep industry insights.”

Generation Investment Management LLP is dedicated to long-term investing, integrated sustainability research, and client alignment. It is an independent, private, owner-managed partnership established in 2004 and headquartered in London, with a US office in San Francisco. Generation Investment Management LLP has approximately $22 billion of assets under management.

New Brunswick Marine Research Centre to study impact on spill clean-up chemicals on aquatic life

The Canadian Ministry of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard recently announced that it is investing $2.4 million in scientific research at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in New Brunswick.

With this investment, the Centre will study how spill response measures, such as the use of dispersant chemicals, affect fish and other aquatic species of interest. The goal of the project is to ensure the use of effective response measures, without harming ocean life in the event of a spill.

The Huntsman Marine Science Centre is located in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The Centre is engaged in a broad range of marine science and applied research initiatives.

Huntsman Marine Science Centre (Source: huntsmanmarine.ca)

British Columbia’s New Groundwater Protection Model

The British Columbia Ministry of Environmental Protection and Sustainability recently posted a renewed version of the Province’s Groundwater Protection Model (GPM). The latest model version has been posted to the ministry’s webpage at: Policies & Standards – Province of British Columbia. Users will need to download the new model version to conduct calculations under Protocol 2 – Site-Specific Numerical Soil Standards (SSS) and Protocol 13 – Screening Level Risk Assessment.

Questions regarding the GPM and associated Technical Guidance 13 should be directed to George.Szefer@gov.bc.ca andAnnette.Mortensen@gov.bc.ca.

Also, the B.C. Environment Ministry has posted a draft version of seventeen new analytical methods for public comment. The analytical methods can be found at “Methods Posted for Review”.

Public comment on the new methods will be accepted until June 17, 2019. All public comments should be direct to  Joyce Austin, Senior Provincial Laboratory Specialist, Knowledge Management Branch at Joyce.Austin@gov.bc.ca.

Technical questions regarding the proposed new methods should be directed to Mark Hugdahl (BCELTAC Chair) atMark.Hugdahl@alsglobal.com.

Environmental Realty of Mercury Contamination in Grassy Narrows

Written by Abimbolo Badejo, Staff Reporter

Grassy Narrows, a First Nation community of 1,600 residents, landed on the world radar due to a tragic mercury poisoning accident, made possible by lax laws regarding environmental pollution in the 1960s. Affected policies have been amended to prevent further occurrences but solutions to the poisoning effects are yet to be addressed effectively.

Government officials discovered Mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon River in the 1970s, caused by a chemical plant at the Reed Paper Mill in Dryden Ontario. The river flows beside two First Nations communities (Grassy Narrows and Whitedog), which depend on this river as their source of livelihood. The contaminated river poisoned the fish, and this caused a shutdown of the associated fishing industry, resulting in mass unemployment for the residents. In addition, various health defects ranging from neurological disorders  to digestive disorders have been observed among the residents (spanning three generations) with no encouraging end to the defects in sight.

Studies and Plans

Since the discovery of mercury contamination in the river in the 1970s, no major action has been taken besides the establishment of a Disability Board  in 1986, which was saddled with the duty of compensating affected residents; many of whose claims for compensation were denied. After decades of delay, pressures from concerned groups (First Nations and environmental Groups) finally elicited a somewhat response from the Ontario provincial government and the Federal government. The government of Ontario stated in June 2017 that it has secured  $85 million to  clean up the contaminated water and land, while the Federal Government has agreed to put a trust fund in place to ensure the establishment of a treatment center focused on ailments related to the mercury poisoning. The treatment facility is expected to cost about 88.7 million dollars, as estimated after a feasibility study. 1,2

Dryden Paper Mill

Mercury in the Environment

Mercury exists in nature in either the elemental, inorganic or organic forms. The organic form of mercury (Methyl mercury) is of greatest concern in the health industry.  Elemental mercury is transformed into the organic form in the aquatic environment by microbial activity, which is in turn bioaccumulated in the flesh of aquatic organisms  along the aquatic food chain. Biomagnified toxic methyl mercury in the aquatic apex predators is transferred to consumers via efficient absorption from the digestive tracts into the blood stream and eventually through  the blood-brain barrier. Excess concentrations of methyl mercury in the human body, with concentrations above 0.47 µg/day (per kg in adult body weight) and  0.2 µg/day (per kg in a child’s or pregnant mother’s body weight), results in deleterious neurologic effects in humans of any age. Additional health defects such as impaired vision, blindness and digestive disorders have been reported.3,4

Similar tragic occurrences of environmental mercuric contamination have been reported in some parts of the world. Between 1932 and 1968, a chemical plant in Minamata, Japan released mercury into a lake which resulted in the death of over 100 people. This occurrence was highly significant, coining the name “Minamata Disease” for syndromes associated with mercury poisoning, such as brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium. Another memorable tragedy was reported in Iraq in the early 1970s, where methylmercury compounds were use in seed treatment in agriculture. Wheat grains that were treated with this toxic compound were planted, harvested and made into flour for human consumption. Bread made from the poisoned flour resulted in high mortality rate among the consumers. Occupational exposure is not left out of the list as reported in Ghana in the 1960s. Elemental mercury is used in artisanal gold mining,  where gold ores from near-surface deposits were mixed with the elemental mercury before heating to release the toxic mercury vapour into the environment, leaving the gold behind. Breathing in the mercuric vapour can lead to severe pneumonitis in humans. 5

Clean-up of Mercury Contamination

Clean-up of mercury contaminated sites, such as Carson River Mercury site and Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine in Clearlake California, have been reported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) . The technology used include ex-situ and in-situ treatment methods. The most common method reported is the excavation and disposal of mercury contaminated soil or sediment, as hazardous waste meant for landfill or treated at an approved thermal treatment facility.  The excavated land is backfilled with clean soil and ecologically restored. An in-situ treatment method can be the stabilization / solidification of the toxic substance by sealing in the contaminant with a mixture of cement and Sulphur containing compounds. This method is made possible using an auger-system to mix the soil and cement to immobilize the contaminant. Contaminated sediments can be sealed by a method called “capping”, where a layer of sand and gravel  is poured over the sediments to prevent contact further with the contaminant. These methods and technologies have been used effectively at various mercury contaminated sites in the United States. More information can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/mercury/what-epa-doing-reduce-mercury-pollution-and-exposures-mercury

Ideally, post remediation monitoring  should include restriction of the sealed-off area to public access, absolute cessation in the consumption of food sourced from the contaminated areas and an active reduction in all processes that release mercury into the environment. In situations where the mercury is an unavoidable  component of an industrial waste such as dental amalgam production wastes or battery chemical wastes, a preventive-control suggestion will be to discharge the liquid waste into a holding reservoir to allow mercury-settling into sludge, which can be collected and treated or appropriately disposed.

Since there is an immense need for more research in sustainable and environmental-friendly extensive mercury spill clean-up, more attention should be focused on proactively preventing further occurrences  by adhering strictly to the controls that have been put in place to manage all operations pertaining to the use of mercury.

References

  1. https://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/children-of-the-poisoned-river-mercury-poisoning-grassy-narrows-first-nation/
  2. https://globalnews.ca/news/5189817/grassy-narrows-liberals-mercury-treatment-facility/
  3. Pirkle, C.M., Muckle, G., Lemire, M. (2016) Managing Mercury Exposure in Northern Canadian Communities. CMAJ, 188 (14) 1015-1023
  4. Bernhoft R. A. (2011) Mercury toxicity and treatment: a review of the literature. Journal of environmental and public health, 2012, 460508. doi:10.1155/2012/460508
  5. Bonzongo JC.J., Donkor A.K., Nartey V.K., Lacerda L.D. (2004) Mercury Pollution in Ghana: A Case Study of Environmental Impacts of Artisanal Gold Mining in Sub-Saharan Africa. In: Drude de Lacerda L., Santelli R.E., Duursma E.K., Abrão J.J. (eds) Environmental Geochemistry in Tropical and Subtropical Environments. Environmental Science. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

VelocityEHS acquires Industrial Hygiene Software company Spiramid

VelocityEHS, a Chicago-based environment, health, safety (EHS) software company, recently announced it has acquired Spiramid, developer of the a system for managing industrial hygiene (IH). The acquisition adds Spiramid’s occupational safety & health software to the VelocityEHS’s EHS platform. The software, now called VelocityEHS Industrial Hygiene, gives organizations the capabilities to efficiently run an industrial hygiene program.

VelocityEHS is launching its new Industrial Hygiene solution at a time when IH is at an important crossroads. The need for workplace programs that anticipate and prevent workplace hazards is growing, while the number of certified industrial hygienists and investments in traditional programs has been on the decline.

“We’re excited to launch our powerful new Industrial Hygiene product. It’s a perfect fit for people working on the frontlines and has great synergy with our market-leading Chemical Management capabilities. Its simple design cuts through the complexity of IH tasks,” said Glenn Trout, president and CEO of VelocityEHS. “While there’s no substitute for a well-trained, well-resourced team of industrial hygienists, the reality today is that a growing number of EHS generalists are being called upon to do sampling and run IH programs that fall outside the scope of their training and traditional responsibilities. Whether you’re a veteran hygienist or new to the role, we believe our new IH solution will provide significant value.”

The software gives companies with sophisticated programs the ability to see, in one place and in real time, what’s happening across their enterprise. It gives staff hygienists new reporting tools — like dynamic risk matrices — to help them determine where and why to deploy resources, as well as to demonstrate the value of IH when talking with leadership stakeholders. For companies without a Certified Industrial Hygienist, it provides a framework for managing exposure risks and meeting a wide range of IH tasks.

“The goal of any industrial hygiene program is to help as many people in the workplace as you can. I am proud to see our IH software, which we have spent years perfecting, added to the VelocityEHS platform, which serves the industry’s largest EHS software community,” said Dave Risi, co-founder of Spiramid.

Managing IH can require the collaboration of many stakeholders, including people sampling in the field, IH consultants, outside laboratories, and program managers. VelocityEHS’ Industrial Hygiene software is a central management hub, facilitating the workflow and hand-off of responsibilities from party to party. For instance, users can more easily plan and control all aspects of IH, from selection of chemicals and analytical methods, to selection of laboratories and access of sampling results, with options to share information with the right stakeholders. The solution lets users send chain of custody forms directly to labs and receive the analytical data electronically, inside the product, eliminating the need for manual input and helping to avoid errors by making the information readily accessible.

Other features include an in-product database of CAS Registry Numbers, OELs and laboratories, plus easy tools for tracking and managing of similar exposure groups (SEGs), qualitative assessments, sampling plans, medical surveillance, surveys, samples and equipment. It is the smartest and most efficient way to track a high-volume of complicated sample data and to manage risk assessments and mitigation programs.

The new IH software, together with VelocityEHS’ Chemical Management and Industrial Ergonomics solutions, provides industrial hygienists with the comprehensive resources they need to promote healthier workplaces.

Ontario’s Proposed Excess Soil Regulations: Effects & Benefits

Written by Abimbola Badejo, Staff Writer

Where do the soils excavated from our basements go? Our backyards, neighbors’ backyards or into our drinking water?

Background

Soil is an important natural resource that needs to be conserved for sustainability and hygienic reasons. Numerous activities and projects such as construction, mining, contaminated site remediation, expansive archaeological projects, etc., require soil excavation.

The excavated soil is used to refill the vacant land or removed from the project site as “excess soil” left over from a project. The disposal of excavated soil however, posses a challenge for the contractors undertaking the projects as the receiving sites or facilities for excess soils are either far, unavailable or result in expensive transportation costs.

In certain instances, this problem has resulted in illegal dumping of excess soils onto farmers fields and vacant lands across Ontario, without the appropriate consideration of soil quality or dumping location. A 2018 CBC story on illegal dumping estimated the amount of illegal soil dumped in Ontario could annually fill Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, sixteen times.

Aerial view of Rogers Centre, Toronto (Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels)

Previous Government Reactions

To tackle the problem of illegal excess soil dumping, the Ontario Environment Ministry released a guidance document titled: “Management of Excess Soil – A Guide For Best Management Practices.” There was no obligation for compliance to the guidance document and thus the illegal practice continued.

With illegal dumping continuing in the province, the Environment Ministry released of a legal document which required compliance. The legal document, Regulatory Framework on Excess Soil Management, was made to clarify the responsibilities of excess-soil generators and a list of requirements guiding the sampling and analysis, soil characterization, tracking and dumping of excess soils. The Excess Soil Management proposal was posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario for public comments from concerned stakeholders for two months in 2017; and afterwards an amended proposal implementing changes influenced by the comments was released.

The Latest Regulatory Proposal

With the Ontario election in the June of 2018 resulting in a change of government, the regulatory proposals for excess soil management were put on hold. On May first, the government issued its an updated proposal for the management of excess soil.

The proposed Excess soil regulatory proposal and amendments to Record of Site Condition (Brownfields) Regulation have the following features:

  • A revised approach to waste designation, where excess soil is considered waste and should be treated as one according to Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Waste Management); unless the relocated excess-soil is reused in an appropriate way or is deposited at a final receiving site that has appropriate approval documents,
  • Reduced regulatory complexity, where waste related approvals for low-risk soil management activities may no longer be required, provided certain requirements are met,
  • Flexibility for soil reuse through a beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool to develop site-specific standards and to provide a better understanding of environmental protection,
  • Improving safe and appropriate reuse of excess soil by quality soil testing, tracking and registration of soil movements for larger and riskier generating and receiving sites,
  • Landfill restrictions on clean soil deposit unless it is required for cover.

Once promulgated, the transition phase into the new regulations will take place over the period of 2 to 3 years, where the more flexible excess-soil reuse regulations, such as the amended Record of Site Conditions (O. Reg. 153/04), are already in effect. Other amendments, such as excess soil management planning and landfilling restrictions will come into effect between 2020 and 2022, to allow time for the production of alternative excess soil reuse approaches.

Benefits of Policy

From an environmental perspective, the proposal’s call for some regulatory key points are quite sustainably beneficial. Registering and tracking the excess soil movement from excavation source to receiving site or facility will minimize illegal dumping. Transporting and illegal dumping of the excess soils is a source of concern because excavated soil is a source of trapped Greenhouse Gases (GHG). Inappropriate tipping of a considerable amount of excess soil will result in the release of a significant amount of GHG in the atmosphere. Moreover, vigorous testing and analysis of the excess soils meant for landfill will ensure that contaminated soil is properly disposed of as hazardous waste, instead of illegally covering it up at a landfill where is poses a threat as a potential source of contamination to ground water.

Excess Soil Market Impact

Economically, implementing the excess soil management policy will be beneficial to contractors and will encourage them to be more proactive in making their Excess Soil Management Plan (ESMP) in favor of excess soil reuse. This will assist in developing alternative, better and cheaper ways of reusing their excess soils; or selling off some (or all) of the excavated soils to a buyer,  who will put it to good use.

In addition, there has been a report of excess soil “black market” emergence in the industry; where contractors are avoiding the higher costs of tipping at provincially regulated designated facilities in exchange for illegal tipping at ignorant landowners’ fields. These landowners are receiving the excess soils at a small fee from the contractors, without consideration for the quality of the soil and possible environmental effect in the future. Implementation of the policy will minimize the expansion of this market, especially because of the registration and tracking requirements of the excess soil load and the approval documents required of the receivers.

Diving deep into Redwater – Supreme Court Says Trustee in Bankruptcy can’t cherry pick Environmentally Clean Assets

Written by John Stefaniuk and Scott Birse, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada released its much anticipated decision in Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Limited (a case more commonly known as Redwater) on January 31, 2019. You might recall our article on the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision in the same case.

In Redwater, the courts had to decide whether bankruptcy law trumped provincial regulatory orders issued in Alberta. Redwater Energy Corporation (Redwater) was an oil and gas developer.  It held a number of development properties under the authority of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).  With the slump in oil prices, Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB), Redwater’s primary lender, called its loan. ATB appointed Grant Thornton Ltd. first as receiver and subsequently as trustee in bankruptcy of the estate of Redwater under the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA).

In the course of examining Redwater’s realizable assets, Grant Thornton became aware of outstanding environmental reclamation obligations that were associated with some of Redwater’s non-producing properties.  Grant Thornton decided to put the valuable, producing wells and other “clean” assets up for sale, and to walk away from the remaining assets by renouncing them under the BIA. That resulted in putting the reclamation in the lap of the Orphan Well Association (OWA), an industry-funded organization set up in Alberta to administer a fund established for the purpose of reclamation of “orphan” properties.

The AER refused to allow the transfer of the productive licences. It issued abandonment orders requiring clean-up or posting of security for clean-up costs in relation to the renounced assets. The parties headed to court to see what would become of the value that could be realized for the retained assets. Both the trial court and the Alberta Court of Appeal would have allowed Grant Thornton to leave the liabilities behind.

In the majority decision written by Wagner C.J., the Court applied a three-part test found in another Supreme Court of Canada case decided in 2012, Newfoundland and Labrador v. AbitibiBowater Inc. The majority of the Court held that the reclamation claims were not  a debt, liability or claim owing to a creditor and that they were too remote to attach a monetary value. That meant that two of the three criteria in the Abitibi test were not met. The Court therefore held that the bankruptcy did not have the effect of undoing the orders and the trustee could not cherry-pick the valuable assets while renouncing the rest.

This was a bit of a surprise to many environmental law practitioners, including most of the ones I attended a conference with just a few weeks prior to the decision.

What then, is the upshot?

Ostensibly, this is good news for provincial regulators. It is more likely that their enforcement orders will be found to continue to be binding upon corporations in bankruptcy. While it does not make receivers or trustees in bankruptcy personally responsible for rehabilitation costs, it does mean that the proceeds of sale of the valuable assets may have to be put toward satisfying those orders before any of it is available to lenders and other creditors. That means less costs potentially borne by the provinces (and their taxpayers). Predictably, lenders do not seem to garner a lot of public sympathy.

On the other hand, (assuming no changes to the BIA) the decision means that lenders and other creditors will have to pay closer attention to the borrower’s unfunded clean-up and closure costs when extending and monitoring credit. If the lender no longer has the ability to deal with valuable assets and leave the “dirty” behind, it means that credit in environmentally sensitive sectors may become tighter, reporting requirements may become more onerous, and some lenders may become skittish.

The dissenting minority decision written by Côté J. said the majority decision was not based on “polluter pays”, but instead resulted in a regime of “lender pays”.  After all, it is always open to the provinces to require permittees and licensees to post better (and more) security to fund rehabilitation costs, and to carry out better monitoring and inspections to ensure that the security is really adequate to fund clean-up. On top of that, who is in a better position to monitor environmental compliance and reclamation costs, the regulator or the bank? Surely, the regulators have better expertise and, assuming proper funding from government, better resources to carry out the work. Indeed, the regulators also wield the bigger stick – fines and penalties – whereas the most that the lender can do is either refuse to lend, lend less, or call in a loan where potential trouble is spotted. By the time that issues are obvious, the lender may choose to let things ride, so long as payments are being made, rather than force a realization that could put its security at risk. It is difficult to see how that serves environmental protection.

In some respects, the decision can be seen as a bit of a “Get out of Jail Free” card for the provinces and their resource and environmental regulators. No doubt that is the way that ATB felt about it.

This article has been republished with the permission of the authors. It was first published on the TDL Law website.


About the Authors

John Stefaniuk engages in a broad practice with emphasis on environmental law, real estate and development law, natural resources and energy, commercial law and municipal law matters. He has particular experience in relation to contaminated sites, mining and mine rehabilitation, wind power development, natural resource development, environmental approvals and licensing, commercial real estate, leasing, financing and development, municipal approvals, taxation and assessment and business acquisitions. He appears regularly before government licensing bodies and administrative tribunals including the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission and Municipal Board, municipal councils, provincial legislative committees and in all levels of court in Manitoba and in the Federal Court in connection with environmental, resource, regulatory municipal, and property issues.

Scott Birse has a broad practice with a particular emphasis on environmental law, municipal law, real estate and development law, regulatory compliance, commercial law and related litigation. He has particular experience assisting clients in the areas of environmental liability in real estate transactions and business acquisitions, municipal planning and approvals, contaminated sites liability, environmental assessments, commercial real estate development and civil litigation. Scott has appeared before municipal tribunals, the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench and the Manitoba Court of Appeal. He has also advised clients with respect to municipal and environmental matters in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

U.S. EPA Updates the Superfund National Priorities List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently announced that it is adding seven sites to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) where releases of contamination pose human health and environmental risks.

The NPL includes the United States’ most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing U.S. EPA Superfund cleanup funding and enforcement actions. Only releases at sites included on the NPL are eligible to receive federal funding for long-term, permanent cleanup.

“By adding these sites to the National Priorities List, we are taking action to clean up some of the nation’s most contaminated sites, protect the health of the local communities, and return the sites to safe and productive reuse,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Our commitment to these communities is that sites on the National Priorities List will be a true national priority. We’ve elevated the Superfund program to a top priority, and in Fiscal Year 2018, EPA deleted all or part of 22 sites from the NPL.”

The following sites are being added to the NPL:

· Magna Metals in Cortlandt Manor, New York

· PROTECO in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico

· Shaffer Equipment/Arbuckle Creek Area in Minden, West Virginia

· Cliff Drive Groundwater Contamination in Logansport, Indiana

· McLouth Steel Corp in Trenton, Michigan

· Sporlan Valve Plant #1 in Washington, Missouri

· Copper Bluff Mine in Hoopa, California

McLouth Steel Corp in Trenton, Michigan (Photo Credit: CREDIT TRANSKOHR / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Superfund cleanups provide health and economic benefits to communities. The program is credited for significant reductions in birth defects and blood-lead levels among children living near sites, and research has shown residential property values increase up to 24% within 3 miles of sites after cleanup.

Redeveloped Superfund sites can generate a great deal of economic activity. Thanks to Superfund cleanups, previously blighted properties are now being used for a wide range of purposes, including retail businesses, office space, public parks, residences, warehouses, and solar power generation. At 529 Superfund sites returned to productive use, 8,600 businesses operate and 195,000 employees earn more than $13 billion in annual income.

The Superfund Task Force is working to improve the Superfund program. The U.S. EPA has implemented nearly half of the Task Force’s recommendations to expedite site cleanups and redevelopment and expects to complete the remaining recommendations by July 2019.

Source: U.S. EPA

Demystifying Occupational Hygiene

Written by Abimbola Badejo, Staff Writer

At the recent Partners in Prevention 2019 Health and Safety Conference, Ontario, Canada; organized by Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) Ontario, Canada, Dave Gardner of Pinchin Ltd. delivered a presentation on Demystifying Occupational Hygiene. Mr. Gardner is Senior Occupational Hygiene and Safety Consultant with Pinchin Ltd. Below is a summary of his presentation.

WHAT IS OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE?

Occupational hygiene has been defined by the United States Department of Labour Occupational Safety and Health Administration as “that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among the citizens of the community.1.   Simply put, the goal of Occupational hygiene is to ensure the safety and protection of a worker at his or her workplace, provided the worker follows a set of guidelines  that have been put in place to safeguard his/her health and safety.  

Typical occupational hygiene principles include written standards, procedures and practices; workers training as part of a knowledge management program; logical thinking on the part of the creator; a combination of actions with words learned from the written standards; and total compliance with associated regulations.

WHY IS OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE PROGRAM IMPORTANT?

An Occupational Hygiene program is of great importance as its negligence leads to occupational injuries and diseases. Occupational diseases are considered more significant due to factors associated with it; which include

  • Diseases caused by exposure to either chemical, physical or biological agents at the workplace
  • Sources such as exposure to airborne asbestos particles, confined spaces, noise, construction projects, etc.
  • Categories namely Long Latency Illness, Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), Chronic Exposure and effects and Acute Exposure and effects
  • Observable effects which are not seen until after a long duration of exposure
  •  75% of fatalities in diseases, attributed to occupational origins

The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reported that approximately 130 thousand claims were filed, and about $940 million benefit costs were released, between 2008 and 2017. Occupational diseases with long latency are mostly serious and these account for only three percent of the occupational diseases with benefits.

Based on these factors (and those not mentioned), reviews have been made by the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and Labour Canada. These reviews include updates made to the Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL) of chemicals, training workers on the safe usage of materials and the equipment at the workplace, thorough knowledge of the materials and substances used at the workplace, compulsory and proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), alertness of workers to the state of their own health and compulsory medical check-ups in relation to workplace risk assessment.

CASE FOCUS: SUMMARY OF RISKS AND SURVEYS REPORTED FOR WORKERS IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

A survey made by the Center for Construction Research and Training regarding occupational diseases in the construction industry reported that the workers in this industry are:

  • twice as likely to have chronic obstructive lung diseases, five times more likely to have lung cancer, thirty-three times more likely to have asbestosis
  • inclined to suffer a 50% increase in Lung Cancer related deaths
  • predisposed to noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) (50% of workers)
  • susceptible to elevated levels of lead in their blood (17% of workers)
  • exposed to the allowable 8-hour exposure limit for Manganese during welding processes. This was observed with workers involved in boiler making (75%), iron-working (15%) and pipe-fitting (7%)).

In addition, a nationwide report has disclosed that 40% of WSIB costs are for construction occupational diseases, more construction workers die from a combination of occupational diseases and traumatic injuries and that 2 to 6 construction workers are more likely to develop occupational lung disease and NIHL.

As observed, most of the occupationally related diseases can be prevented by simple tasks such as hand-washing, proper use of PPE and correct compliance to defined regulations.

LEGISLATIONS GOVERNING OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE

To ensure the protection of workers in various Canadian industries, regulations and guidelines have been put in place; some of which require compliance by either the employee or the employer. The legislations and related codes/standards guiding occupational hygiene in workplaces include:

Some of the provided regulations and guidelines are specific while others are general in application. The key to correct interpretation is to apply the correct regulation to the right workplace situation.

An example of a proper legislation application: Silica is an inert substance and an irreplaceable material in most products and buildings in the world today.  As the second most abundant mineral on the planet, silica is used in numerous ways. Getting the substance to the usable state requires processing, which exposes the worker to the respirable crystalline form. The regulation (O. Reg 490/09), listing silica as a designated substance, does not apply to the silica infused products but to the respirable fractions which the processing worker is exposed to. The regulation specifies an occupational exposure limit (OEL) for respirable crystalline silica as 0.05 mg/m3 of air (cristobalite silica) and 0.1 mg/m3 of air (quartz and tripoli silica) for an 8-hour/day or 40-hour weekly exposure. This regulation, however, does not apply to the employer or some other workers on a construction  project; but the employer’s responsibility will be to protect the worker’s health in compliance to section 25 (2)(h) of the OHSA, requiring employers to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances to protect a worker.

FUNDAMENTALS OF OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE

Before initiating an occupational hygiene program, a clearer understanding of basic terms is ideal.

Industrial Hygiene: this is an exercise devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental stresses arising from the workplace, which may cause the impairment of a worker’s health.

Toxicology: the study of how chemical, physical and biological agents adversely affect biological systems. The adverse effects include irritation, sensitization, organ failure, diseases or cancer.

Disease, dose and exposure: Disease / response is caused by an agent dosage. Dosage is measured in relation to the exposure of the worker to an agent. Mathematically, exposure is calculated as the agent concentration multiplied by duration of exposure (concentration x time). Therefore, sampling surveys are simply estimating the exposure of the worker to a specific concentration of the agent. Exposure routes may be through inhalation, ingestion, contact or skin absorption.

Threshold Limit Values (TLV): TLVs are general concentration limit values for specific chemicals, to which a healthy adult worker can be exposed.  However, TLVs does not adequately protect all workers as their susceptibility levels to various chemicals are unique to them. TLVs are used by regulators as guidelines or recommendations to assist in the control of potential workplace hazards.

Time-Weighted Average (TLV-TWA): TWA concentration for a conventional 8-hour/day or 40-hour/week , to which a worker may be repeatedly exposed.

Short-Term Exposure Limit (TLV-STEL): This is a 15-minute TWA exposure that should not be exceeded.

Ceiling (TLV-C): This is a concentration that must not be exceeded during any part of working exposure

Air Monitoring: This is a process of sampling the air in the workplace, on a regular basis. The monitoring  may be qualitative (risk assessments, hygiene walkthroughs and training) or quantitative (air, noise and wipe sampling) in perspective.

RISK ASSESSMENT

The first focus of an occupational hygiene program is to conduct a risk assessment of the workplace processes.  A risk assessment shows that 20% of the activities or tasks  carried out, leads to 80% of  risks. Carrying out a risk assessment, focuses on the adverse effects of  a hazardous agent and the associated level of risk if a worker is exposed to it. Approaches to risk assessment include Critical Tasks Analysis (where stepwise task and risk inventories are made with the focus on worker’s safety), Process Safety (where the focus is on the process, controlling the risk to keep the worker safe) or a combination of both approaches. Risk assessment, therefore, is done  as thus:

  1. Making a list of the agents the worker is exposed to,
  2. Identifying the routes of entry,
  3. Identifying a relative risk level (low, medium or high),
  4. Documenting the control in place and its effectiveness.

Table 1. Requirements of a Hazard Reviewer. Scores are used to dictate the skill level required to assess and develop control strategies.

Risk
Score
Risk
Level
Minimum Requirements
<10 Low to Medium low Any trained employee
>10 to <20 Medium Health and Safety Department or a contracted Health and Safety Consultant
20 & above High Certified Health and Safety Professional or Industrial Hygienist (CRSP, CSP, CIH, ROH)

DEVELOPING AIR SAMPLING STRATEGIES

A preliminary survey is initially conducted using simple and common tools such as human senses (sight, taste, hear, smell, taste and gut-feelings), video camera, photo camera, tape measure and a notebook. Optional tools include velometer and smoke tubes.

Next, all knowledge and processes related to the hazardous agents are sought out using the central dogma of risk assessment (Recognition, Evaluation and Control).

The sampling itself should be done using standardized and validated methods (NIOSH, EPA, ASTM, etc.).

The extent of sampling should be determined, whether personal (breathing zone) samples or area samples.

Next, the duration of sampling should be determined, which could be  a whole day, full-shift, partial shift, single samples, sequential samples, grab or composite samples.

The worker to be sampled should be with the worker with the  highest exposure potential or a group of workers with similar exposure due to the similarity of their tasks at the workplace.

The amount of samples taken should also be determined.

The time of sampling should be determined (day or night shift, winter or summer season, etc.)

Documentation should be made at every sampling point; and this should include start and stop times, environmental conditions, chronological log of work tasks, quantified conditions during production, duration of shifts and break periods, use of PPE, engineering controls, housekeeping habits and the state of workplace ventilation.

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

Occupational hygiene programs are made with several guidelines governing it. According to the province of Ontario, all control programs must provide engineering controls, work practices and hygiene facilities  to control a workers exposure to a designated substance; methods and procedure should be put in place to monitor airborne concentrations of designated substances and measure workers exposure to the same; training programs should be organized for supervisors and workers on the health effects of the designated substance and the respective controls required. A typical Occupational Hygiene program, therefore, should  include the following:

  • Version history
  • Purpose / objectives
  • Scope and application
  • Distribution
  • Definitions and abbreviations
  • Roles, responsibilities and accountabilities
  • Program management (Resources, commitment and program coordinator)
  • Risk assessments
  • Exposure monitoring plans
  • Occupational hygiene surveys (sampling strategy development, analytical services, documentation and reporting )
  • Occupational hygiene controls
  • Training
  • Related document / appendices
  • Quality assurance
  • Maintenance of standard operating practices (SOPs)
  • Annual summary report.

CONCLUSION

An occupational hygiene program is an important component of workplace management. This ensures the protection of workers’ health, which leads to better and greater productivity at the workplace.  The foundation of occupational hygiene programs is to understand the principles that govern the program and knowing how to apply the principles to various situations at the workplace. Proper application and effective controls will assist in achieving the goal of establishing a safe environment for workers to operate.

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.osha.gov/dte/library/industrial_hygiene/industrial_hygiene.pdf