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

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.

Repeal of the Ontario Toxics Reduction Act, 2009

The Ontario government recently announced that it will repeal the Ontario Toxics Reduction Act, 2009 and revoke its associated regulations on December 31, 2021.

The purpose of the Toxics Reduction Act, 2009 is to prevent pollution by reducing the use and creation of toxic substances and inform Ontarians about those substances. Under the statute, industry is required to develop toxic reduction plans, and report publicly each year. Implementation of plans is voluntary.

The decision to revoke the statute was reached by the government following consultation with stakeholders and in keeping with the government’s Ontario Open for Business Action Plan. During the consultation period, the government received a total of 431 comments from various stakeholders.

The reason given by the government for the planned repeal was that the Toxics Reduction Program has not achieved meaningful reductions. The government stated that results indicate an overall reduction of only 0.04% of substances used, created and released for all regulated facilities.

This graph illustrates the number of substances as reported to the Ontario Environment Ministry under the Toxics Reduction Regulations by facilities for 2013

In repealing the Toxics Reduction Act, 2009 in 2021, the Ontario government believes that it will eliminate duplication and overlap with the federal government’s Chemicals Management Plan program under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999.

Regulated facilities in Ontario still have to maintain reporting under the Toxics Reduction Act, 2009 and its associated regulations until December 31, 2021.

Existing facilities with current plans for substances that meet reporting thresholds are required to report annually on:

  • the amounts of those substances used, created, contained in product; and
  • the progress in reducing those substances.

Until the repeal, facilities can continue to voluntarily amend their plans. Summaries of amended plans must also be made available to the public.

United States: U.S. EPA Takes Action Under TSCA Identifying Chemicals For Agency Scrutiny

Written by by Lawrence E. Culleen, Arnold & Porter

Prioritization of Chemicals

In its continuing quest to meet regulatory deadlines imposed by the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has published a list of 40 chemicals that must be “prioritized” by the end of 2019. The announcement marks the beginning of the Agency’s process for designating the 40 listed chemicals identified as either “high” or “low” priority substances for further the U.S. EPA scrutiny. At the conclusion of the prioritization process, at least 20 of the substances likely will be designated as high priority.

A high priority designation immediately commences the U.S. EPA’s formal “risk evaluation” procedures under the amended statute. The risk evaluation process can lead to “pause preemption” under the terms of the 2016 amendments and new state laws and regulations restricting the manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of a chemical substance undergoing a risk evaluation could not be established until the evaluation process is completed. The U.S. EPA commenced its first 10 risk evaluations as required under the amended law at the close of 2016. The Agency is required to have an additional 20 risk evaluations of high priority substances ongoing by December 22, 2019. If the U.S. EPA’s risk evaluation process concludes that a substance presents an “unreasonable risk” to health or the environment under its “conditions of use,” the Agency must commence a rulemaking to prohibit or limit the use of the substance under Section 6 of TSCA.

The Agency’s announcement of the list of chemicals to undergo prioritization provides the makers and users of the listed substances an important, time limited opportunity to submit relevant information such as the uses, hazards, and exposure for these chemicals. The U.S. EPA has opened a docket for each of the 40 chemicals and the opportunity to submit information for the U.S. EPA’s consideration will close in 90 days (on June 19, 2019). The U.S. EPA will then move to propose the designation of these chemical substances as either high priority or low priority. The statute requires the U.S. EPA to complete the prioritization process, by finalizing its high priority and low priority designations, within the next nine to 12 months.

The list of 20 substances to be reviewed as high priority candidates consists entirely of substances previously identified by U.S. EPA in 2014 as “Work Plan” chemicals. Thus, the list contains few chemicals that should be considered complete “surprises.” However, the inclusion of formaldehyde may raise concerns in certain quarters given the scrutiny that has been given to the U.S. EPA’s previous struggles with assessing the potential effects of formaldehyde. The Agency has attempted to address these concerns by stating “Moving forward evaluating formaldehyde under the TSCA program does not mean that the formaldehyde work done under IRIS will be lost. In fact, the work done for IRIS will inform the TSCA process. By using our TSCA authority EPA will be able to take regulatory steps; IRIS does not have this authority.” Also included in the listing are several chlorinated solvents, phthalates, flame retardants, a fragrance additive, and a polymer pre-curser:

  • p-Dichlorobenzene
  • 1,2-Dichloroethane
  • trans-1,2- Dichloroethylene
  • o-Dichlorobenzene
  • 1,1,2-Trichloroethane
  • 1,2-Dichloropropane
  • 1,1-Dichloroethane
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) (1,2-Benzene- dicarboxylic acid, 1,2- dibutyl ester)
  • Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) – 1,2-Benzene- dicarboxylic acid, 1- butyl 2(phenylmethyl) ester
  • Di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – (1,2-Benzene- dicarboxylic acid, 1,2- bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester)
  • Di-isobutyl phthalate (DIBP) – (1,2-Benzene- dicarboxylic acid, 1,2- bis-(2methylpropyl) ester)
  • Dicyclohexyl phthalate
  • 4,4′-(1-Methylethylidene)bis[2, 6-dibromophenol] (TBBPA)
  • Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP)
  • Phosphoric acid, triphenyl ester (TPP)
  • Ethylene dibromide
  • 1,3-Butadiene
  • 1,3,4,6,7,8-Hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8-hexamethylcyclopenta [g]-2-benzopyran (HHCB)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Phthalic anhydride

The U.S. EPA has signaled that it has received a manufacturer request for a EPA to undertake a risk evaluation of two additional phthalates which, if administrative requirements for such request have been met, the Agency would announce publicly in the very near term.

The 20 low priority candidate chemicals were selected from the U.S. EPA’s “Safer Chemicals Ingredients List”—a list of substances previously evaluated and considered to meet the U.S. EPA’s “Safer Choice” criteria for use in certain common product categories, such as cleaning products.

Other Recent and Impending U.S. EPA Actions Under TSCA

Given the numerous deadlines that are looming under the amendments to TSCA, it is critical that chemical manufacturers and processors of chemicals and formulations remain aware of the recent and upcoming actions under TSCA that can significantly impact their businesses. The following provides a short list of important actions of which to be aware.

Active/Inactive TSCA Inventory Designations. EPA released an updated version of the TSCA Inventory in February 2019. The Inventory is available for download here. This version of the Inventory includes chemical substances reported by manufacturers and processors by their respective reporting deadlines in 2018. The updated TSCA Inventory (confidential and non-confidential versions) includes 40,655 “active” chemical substances and 45,573 “inactive” chemical substances. Once the current 90-day “transition period” has concluded, it will be unlawful to manufacture, import or process in the US any substance that is listed as “inactive” without first providing notice to the U.S. EPA. Thus, prior to the expiration of the “transition period” on May 20, 2019, manufacturers and processors of chemical substances that are not listed as active on the February 2019 TSCA Inventory must take steps to activate the substance by filing a Notice of Activity (NOA Form B) for any chemical substance that they currently are manufacturing or processing, or anticipate manufacturing or processing within 90 days of submission.

Final TSCA Section 6(a) for Methylene Chloride in Paint and Coating Removers. EPA has released its long-awaited TSCA Section 6(a) rule restricting the use of methylene chloride in paint and coating removers. The final rule prohibits the manufacture, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride in paint removers for consumer use. The rule prohibits the sale of methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removers at retail establishments with any consumer sales (including e-commerce sales). The U.S. EPA declined to finalize its determination that the commercial use of methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removers presents an unreasonable risk. Therefore, distributors to commercial users, industrial users, and other businesses will continue to be permitted to distribute methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removers. However, given recent efforts by store-front retailers to “deselect” such products for consumer sales, it remains unclear how distributions to commercial users can or will occur.

The U.S. EPA simultaneously released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking related to a potential certification program for commercial uses of methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removers. The U.S. EPA has similar programs in place for certain pesticides and refrigerants, and the United Kingdom currently has in place a program to certify commercial users of methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removers. The U.S. EPA is seeking comment on whether a certification program is the appropriate tool to address any potential risks that could be posed by the commercial use of methylene chloride-containing paint and coating removers.

Upcoming Draft Risk Evaluations. The U.S. EPA is expected to publish within days or weeks the highly anticipated draft Risk Evaluations for the remaining 9 of the 10 initial substances to undergo TSCA Risk Evaluations under the amended law and which have been under review since December 2016. The Agency will accept comments on the drafts for a limited period.

Proposed Rules for 5 PBT substances. The U.S. EPA is required to issue no later than June 2019 proposed TSCA Section 6 regulations for 5 persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) substances that were identified during 2016 as priorities for regulatory action. The Agency must propose expedited rules intended to reduce exposures to the extent practicable.


*Camille Heyboer also contributed to this Advisory.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

About the Author

Lawrence Culleen represents clients on administrative, regulatory, and enforcement matters involving federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Department of Agriculture, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Mr. Culleen has broad experience advising clients on US and international regulatory programs that govern commercial and consumer use chemicals, pesticides and antimicrobials, as well as the products of biotechnology and nanoscale materials. Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Culleen held significant positions at EPA serving as a manager in various risk-management programs which oversee pesticides, chemical substances, and biotechnology products.

Yukon’s Contaminated Site Mapped Online

The Government of Yukon Territory recently posted an online map that shows all known contaminated sites in the Territory.

Map of Contaminated Sites in Yukon

To access the contamination history of properties in the territory, one can visit the online map. This information was previously only available to the public on request.

Properties considered contaminated and included in the map are ones that have the confirmed presence of substances such as petroleum hydrocarbons and metals above specific concentrations. The Government of Yukon claims that many contaminated locations pose no risk to the public. However, in an effort to be transparent, it has created the online map.

The map is based on information the Government of Yukon receives and maintains. There are approximately 529 sites recorded by the Government of Yukon on the contaminated sites map. Of these sites 207 are considered contaminated, 151 are unknown and 171 are remediated.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Map of Contaminated Sites in the Yukon, 2012

The Yukon Minister of the Environment, Pauline Frost stated in a press release, “This online tool will help increase the health and safety of communities across Yukon, support remediation efforts and help prevent future instances of contamination through greater public awareness. It is an example of our commitment to openly sharing information that is important to Yukoners and making it as accessible as possible.”

Other Canadian Jurisdictions

The federal government has a searchable federal contaminated sites inventory. The Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory includes information on all known federal contaminated sites under the custodianship of departments, agencies and consolidated Crown corporations as well as those that are being or have been investigated to determine whether they have contamination arising from past use that could pose a risk to human health or the environment. The inventory also includes non-federal contaminated sites for which the Government of Canada has accepted some or all financial responsibility. It does not include sites where contamination has been caused by, and which are under the control of, enterprise Crown corporations, private individuals, firms or other levels of government.

According to information compiled by Ecosense in 2018, contaminated site registry systems are in place in 76% of provinces and territories within Canada. This may include contaminated sites that are apart of a stand alone or another property listing system. Provinces and territories that have a registry include: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Yukon, Quebec, Ontario, North-West Territories, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. However, the degree of information shared within these listings vary extensively. For example, Ontario’s database includes records of site condition (RSC) which entails detailed information of the type of contaminants at a site, contaminant concentrations, as well as information on the phases of environmental site assessments (ESA) completed, the date of site closure and company involved (PIRI, 2014). In contrast, Manitoba’s database provides only a file number, company name, city and address on an impacted sites list. No details of a site’s contamination levels, information concerning the degree of contamination or site remedial status is provided (PIRI, 2014).

Provinces within Canada that provide and inventory on contaminated sites that is available for public access include from west to east: Yukon (YK), British Columbia (BC), North West Territories (NT), Alberta (AB), Manitoba (MN), Ontario (ON, Quebec (QC), Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Newfoundland and Labrador (NL).

In addition, more than half (58%) of the provinces in Canada record contamination over the area of a property (based on property specifics) versus recording contamination over an area (area wide). Contamination doesn’t tend to stick to the boundaries of property lines, therefore inventories that record entries based on property specifics will not accurately represent the breadth or extent of contamination within a given area (PIRI, 2014). Provinces that record area-wide contamination are BC, NT, and NB. Many registries also do not include site information that track the process of assessment or cleanup. AB (only if submitted to the department), BC, YK, QC, and NB keep track of site progress.

Using Block Chain Technology to Track Hazardous Materials

There is increasing focus on the utilization of Blockchain technology to track hazardous materials and hazardous waste. Blockchain technology allows for a system where records can be stored, facts can be verified by anyone, and security is guaranteed. The software that would power such a system is called a “blockchain”.

Blockchains store information across a network of computers making them both decentralized and distributed. This means no central company or person owns the system and that everyone can use it and help run it. This makes it extremely difficult for any one person to take down the network or corrupt it.

In essence, a blockchain is a super-secure digital ledger, where transactions records are kept chronologically and publicly. According to experts, the technology would also make it easier to track shipments of hazardous materials and waste. It could even help with regulatory compliance.


The management of hazardous materials/waste through blockchain would result in more open and coordinated movement among generators, transporters, users, and and recyclers. It would also enable the government to more efficiently and openly regulate hazardous materials movement and hazardous waste management. The imbalance between the organized and unorganized sectors would shrink and lead to increased transparency throughout the process.

Tracking Waste Using Blockchain Technology

The technology that powers cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are slowly making way into hazardous materials transportation and hazardous waste management.

As reported in Hacker Noon, Jody Cleworth, the CEO of Marine Transport International said, “The shipping of recovered materials is necessarily heavily regulated, and we’ve had a real impact in simplifying the process while remaining compliant.” Marine Transport International is a New Jersey-based freight forwarder. The company just completed a successful blockchain pilot. This pilot created a common tracking system linking up recycling suppliers, port operators, and ocean carriers.

Phil Rudoni, Chief Tech Officer at Rubicon said that “A big issue the waste industry faces is the lack of accountability for the end destination of recycled material. Rubicon is an Atlanta-based tech startup that provides cloud-based recycling and waste services.

It has always been a challenge to track hazardous materials and waste. With blockchain, it is believed that it would be much easier. It wouldn’t be so difficult to design a system where hazardous materials could be tagged with scannable Quick Response or QR-Codes (two-dimensional barcode) and then tracked at each step of the recycling supply chain. The tracking could be done by the generator, regulator, receiver, the general public, and any other interested person.

Examples of blockchain technology in waste management

The Several waste initiatives have seen the potential of incorporating blockchain technology. One if such initiative is the Plastic Bank, a global recycling venture founded in Vancouver by David Katz and Shaun Frankson. Its main aim is to reduce plastic waste in developing countries like Haiti, Peru, Colombia, and the Philippines. It has plans to extend it’s territory this year.

The Plastic Bank initiative pays people who bring plastic rubbish to bank recycling centers. One payment option is the use of blockchain-secured digital tokens. The tokens can be used to purchase things like food or phone-charging units in any store using the Plastic Bank app.

The plastic brought into the Plastic Bank is bought by companies and recycled into new consumer products. This system is more attractive because blockchain’s transparency means all parties can see and monitor where their effort and/or investment goes.

U.S. EPA Releases Annual Superfund Program Report for 2018

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently released a summary report of its accomplishments the 2018 fiscal year. The U.S. EPA has made Superfund a priority of the Agency.

Under the Superfund Program, the U.S. EPA is responsible for cleaning up some of the most contaminated sites in the U.S. and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. To protect public health and the environment, the Superfund program focuses on making a visible and lasting difference in communities.

For the 2018 Fiscal Year, the U.S. EPA reported that all or part of 22 sites from the National Priorities List (NPL) were were remediated and deleted from the NPL list.

Regional milestones in the Superfund Program for fiscal year 2018 include:

  • Furthering partnerships with state counterparts and local governments in identifying sites for expedited cleanup activities. (Mississippi Phosphates Corporation Pascagoula, Miss. and Fairfax St. Wood Treaters Jacksonville, Fla.)
  • Stepping up efforts to return sites to productive use and deleting sites from the National Priorities List (NPL). (Davis Timber Company (Hattiesburg, Miss.) Reasor Chemical Company (Castle Hayne, NC) Whitehouse Oil Pits (Whitehouse, Fla.)
  • Enhancing emergency response and preparedness efforts using innovative tools, comprehensive training sessions and rigorous exercises to respond to natural disasters such as Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

Highlights of EPA’s 2018 accomplishments include:

  • Improving human health for people living near Superfund sites by controlling potential or actual human exposure risk at 32 additional Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) sites and controlling the migration of contaminated groundwater at 29 sites.
  • Deleting 18 full and four partial sites from the NPL – the largest number of deletions in one year since 2005 – signaling to the surrounding communities that U.S. EPA has completed the job of transforming these once highly contaminated areas.
  • Returning sites to communities for redevelopment by identifying 51 additional sites as having all long-term protections in place and meeting our “sitewide ready for anticipated use” designation, the highest annual result since 2013.
  • Completing or providing oversight of 242 Superfund removal actions at sites where contamination posed an imminent and substantial threat to human health and the environment.
  • Quickly and effectively responding to large scale emergencies brought on by hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters in California, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
  • Moving many sites closer to completion by making decisions that have been delayed, including West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.; USS Lead in East Chicago, Ind.; and San Jacinto Waste Pits in Channelview, Texas.

The U.S. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has recused himself from working on 45 Superfund sites as a result of his history of lobbying for International Paper Co. and Xcel Energy Inc., among other companies.

In addition, in July 2018, on the one-year anniversary of the agency’s Superfund Task Force Recommendations, the U.S. EPA issued a report covering Task Force accomplishments to date and laying out its plan for completing the remaining recommendations in 2019.

Click here to read the full report.

When Is It Too Late to Sue for Environmental Contamination? The Alberta Court of Appeal Rules

Written by Laura M. Gill, Stephanie Clark, and Justin Duguay, Bennett Jones LLP

On February 6, 2019, the Alberta Court of Appeal (ABCA) released its first ever decision on section 218 of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), which may extend limitation periods applicable to environmental contamination claims.

By a unanimous decision in Brookfield Residential (Alberta) LP (Carma Developers LP) v Imperial Oil Limited, 2019 ABCA 35 [Brookfield], the ABCA upheld a lower court decision where the judge refused to exercise his discretion under section 218 of the EPEA to extend the limitation period for an environmental contamination claim. Extending the limitation period would have likely been prejudicial to the defendant’s ability to maintain a defence to the claim, as the alleged cause of the environmental damage occurred over 60 years ago. We previously discussed the 2017 Court of Queen’s Bench decision in an earlier post, When is an Environmental Contamination Claim Too Old to Extend the Limitation Period?

Background

Brookfield Residential (Alberta) LP (Brookfield) brought a negligence claim in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (ABQB) against Imperial Oil Limited (Imperial) for environmental contamination from an oil well. Imperial drilled and operated the well between 1949 and 1950, and disposed of it in either 1950 or 1954. Multiple owners operated the well between 1950 and 1957 and then used it for salt water disposal between 1958 and 1961, at which point the well was decommissioned and abandoned. After several additional transfers of ownership, the site was issued a reclamation certificate in 1968. Contamination requiring remediation was not discovered until 2010, when Brookfield was preparing the site for residential development.

Brookfield brought an application under section 218 of the EPEA to extend the limitation period, and Imperial cross-applied with a summary dismissal application, asserting that the limitation period had expired. Since it was clear that the ten-year ultimate limitation period under the Limitations Act had expired, Brookfield’s negligence claim was entirely dependent on an extension of the limitation period under section 218. The ABQB refused to extend the limitation period and summarily dismissed the action against Imperial. Brookfield appealed.

The appeal was dismissed. In its reasons, the ABCA provided guidance on three important aspects of section 218 applications: (i) procedure and timing; (ii) the impact of the passage of time on prejudice to the defendant; and (iii) policy considerations relevant to the fourth factor in section 218(3).

1. Applications Under Section 218 of the EPEA Should Be Decided Prior to Trial

The ABCA in Brookfield ruled that applications under section 218 of the EPEA should be decided prior to trial, overruling the two-part test in Lakeview Village Professional Centre Corporation v Suncor Energy Inc, 2016 ABQB 288 [Lakeview]. In Lakeview, the ABQB set out a two-part approach to section 218 applications where the court may make a preliminary determination on limitations and allow the action to proceed subject to a final determination on the merits of the limitations issue at trial. Lakeview became the leading case on the procedure for section 218 applications.

In overturning the Lakeview test, the ABCA found two problems with the approach of deferring the decision on extending limitation periods until trial. First, the Lakeview approach “is inconsistent with the wording of section 218, which provides that the limitation period can be extended ‘on application'”. Second, the approach defeats the whole purpose of limitation periods because it forces a defendant to go through the expense and inconvenience of a full trial on the merits for a determination on limitations, notwithstanding that a limitation period is intended to eliminate the distractions, expense, and risks of litigation after the prescribed time has passed.

2. The Passage of Time Increases the Likelihood of Prejudice to the Defendant

The ABCA affirmed the approach of balancing the four factors in section 218(3), which in this case revolved primarily around the third factor (prejudice to the defendant). The ABCA found that it was reasonable for the ABQB to infer prejudice from the passage of time, noting that this is the presumption behind statutes of limitation. The allegations in Brookfield’s claim occurred over 60 years ago, and as such, witnesses and documentary evidence were difficult to identify and were no longer available. The passage of time also made it difficult to establish the proper standard of care. The ABCA agreed that attempting to determine 1949 industry standards and the standard of care at that time would prejudice Imperial.

3. The Competing Policy Objectives of the Limitations Act and the EPEA

The ABCA also provided guidance on the fourth factor listed in section 218(3), which grants judicial discretion to consider “any other criteria the court considers to be relevant”. The ABCA found that policy considerations behind limitations statutes were relevant criteria that should be weighed. In particular, the ABCA noted the policy objectives of statutes of limitations that actions must be commenced within set periods so that defendants are protected from ancient obligations, disputes are resolved while evidence is still available, and claims are adjudicated based on the standards of conduct and liability in place at the time. However, on the other hand, the ABCA highlighted that the EPEA has a “polluter pays” objective where a polluter should not escape responsibility by the mere passage of time.

Implications

The ABCA’s decision in Brookfield changes the procedure for extending limitation periods in environmental contamination claims. Rather than waiting until trial, parties must bring section 218 applications early on. As a result, plaintiffs in contaminated sites claims should also carefully assess the impacts on defendants of the passage of time in making section 218 applications. Brookfield reinforces that a court will likely presume greater prejudice from a longer passage of time, especially if witnesses and evidence may be difficult to identify and the standard of care may be difficult to assess. Going forward, Brookfield suggests that the Court will take a practical approach to assessing prejudice against a defendant when deciding whether to extend limitation periods in contaminated site claims where the ultimate limitation period has passed.


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

About the Authors

Laura Gill is called to the bar in Alberta and British Columbia and has a commercial litigation practice specializing in energy and natural resources, First Nations issues, and environmental matters. Laura advises clients on disputes in a wide range of corporate matters, including complex breach of contract claims and joint ventures.

Laura’s experience in the energy industry includes litigating disputes involving leases, right-of-way agreements, ownership stakes, royalties, gas supply contracts, farmout agreements, and CAPL operating agreements. Laura also acts on appeals and judicial review proceedings following decisions of regulatory bodies, in particular with respect to regulatory approvals for energy-related projects in Alberta and British Columbia.

Stephanie Clark has a general commercial litigation practice. Stephanie has assisted with matters before all levels of the Alberta court system. During law school, Stephanie held a student clerkship with the Honourable Mr. Justice Nicholas Kasirer at the Court of Appeal of Quebec, competed in the 2015 Jessup International Law Moot, and was awarded with the Borden Ladner Gervais Professional Excellence Award. Stephanie articled with the firm’s Calgary office prior to becoming an associate. 

Justin Duguay is an articling student at Bennett Jones.

U.S.: Lessons Learned from Citizen Suits for Contamination of Property by Industry

by Seth Jaffe, Foley Hoag LLP

Two recent cases illustrate the potential scope of, and the potential limitations on, injunctive relief in RCRA citizen suits. 

First up, Schmucker v. Johnson Controls. Contamination was detected at the Johnson Controls manufacturing facility in Goshen, Indiana.  In response, Johnson Controls performed substantial remediation under the auspices of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Voluntary Remediation Program.  Nonetheless, significant contamination remains at the site, including a groundwater plume running beneath residences.  In 2011, TCE was detected in indoor air at concentrations exceeding IDEM’s screening level.  Johnson Controls installed vapor mitigation systems at all affected residences, and concentrations were below screening levels in all the residences after installation of the mitigation.

Imminent and substantial endangerment, or not?  In a battle of the experts, the Court denied both sides’ motions for summary judgment.  First, the plaintiff’s expert’s opinion that there was a risk of future exposures, notwithstanding the mitigation, was enough to defeat Johnson Controls’ motion.  The Court did note that:

“Murphy’s law” is not sufficient to establish an endangerment where a party relies only on speculation that mitigation measures might fail.

However, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ expert was not simply speculating.

On the flip side, defendant’s expert said that the mitigation measures were sufficient to eliminate the endangerment.  That was enough to defeat plaintiffs’ motion.

Next up, Lajim v. General Electric.  The facts are somewhat similar to those in Johnson Controls.  There was a long history of industrial use, discovery of a groundwater plume – in this case, impacting municipal water supply wells – and the commencement of significant response actions.  Here, the work was supervised by Illinois EPA, pursuant to a 2010 consent decree.  Here too, nearby plaintiffs were not satisfied with the remedial plan, notwithstanding approval by the state agency overseeing the cleanup.  In another battle of the experts, the District Court denied plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  Here are the highlights:

  • District courts have discretion to deny injunctive relief under RCRA, even where the defendant has been found liable.  “It will usually be the case that injunctive relief is warranted,” but it is not mandatory.
  • RCRA is not a general cleanup statute; injunctive relief is only available where there may be an imminent and substantial endangerment.
  • Where plaintiffs failed, after an evidentiary hearing, to demonstrate that cleanup was necessary beyond that which GE was doing pursuant to the consent decree, no injunction need issue.

I think that there are two lessons from these cases, one substantive and one practical:

  1. RCRA’s citizen suit provision provides plaintiffs with a powerful hammer, but there are limits to the relief that courts will impose, particularly if a defendant is implementing a cleanup under state oversight.
  2. Good lawyering and persuasive experts still really matter.

About the Author

Seth Jaffe is recognized by Chambers USA, The Best Lawyers in America and Massachusetts Super Lawyers as a leading practitioner in environmental compliance and related litigation. He is one of the authors of the Law and the Environment Blog, www.lawandenvironment.com, which provides real-world perspectives on current developments in environmental law and regulation. Seth is a past President of the American College of Environmental Lawyers.

Seth works on a wide range of environmental law issues, representing clients in the permitting/licensing of new facilities and offering ongoing guidance on permitting and enforcement related matters under federal and state Clean Air Acts, Clean Water Acts, RCRA, and TSCA. He also advises on wetlands and waterways regulation. Seth’s clients include electric generating facilities, companies in the printing and chemical industries, and education and health care institutions.

AI Software Firm Specializing in Smart Remediation receives Canadian Government Support

WikiNet, a Quebec-based software firm that claims to have the world’s first
first soil remediation solution using Cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI), recently received $254,000 in funding from the Canadian government through its Quebec Economic Development Program and its Regional Economic Growth through Innovation Program.

The $254,000 in government funding will help WikiNet diversify its markets, thereby increasing its sales and exports. The contribution will go toward prospecting, producing promotional tools and registering a patent. Fifteen jobs will be created once the government funded project is completed. A sum of $109,000 is a repayable contribution.

WikiNet was founded in 2016 to provide innovative software solutions for the environment sector. It offers niche applications, including a smart management tool for the transportation and management of contaminated soils and an application that uses both a database and artificial intelligence to guide environmental experts in choosing the best site remediation technologies.

WikiNet is developing WatRem, a system that learns from past environmental cleanup efforts to provide automated expert recommendations for treating contaminated sites worldwide.

WikiNet’s artificial intelligence product was one of over 150 projects from 36 countries selected as part of the global IBM Watson AI Xprize for Good competition. The winners of the IBM competition will be announced in 2020.

WikiNet has also developed a smart tool called “Trace” for offsite contaminated soil disposal and certification. ​”Trace” is a cognitive tool to support environmental sustainability by offering a smarter and safer way for off-site soil disposal. It allows stakeholders involved in a remediation project to manage offsite disposal of soils and dangerous materials with live GPS traceability.