U.S. EPA Funding for Small Business Innovation Research

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is pre-soliciting companies interested in bidding on $100,000 grants under the Agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.  Under the program, the U.S. EPA will award about 12 firm-fixed-price contracts of $100,000 each under during FY 2018 to small businesses that propose winning research proposals.

The U.S. EPA has identified six topic areas of priority for feasibility-related research or R&D efforts including removal of PFOA/PFOS from drinking water, removal of PFOA/PFOS from wastewater, and remediation of PFAS-contaminated soil and sediment.

The anticipated release date of the solicitation is October 17, 2017, with proposals likely due December 7, 2017.  The U.S. EPA will grant the awards June 30, 2018, each with a 6-month period of performance.  For more information, see http://www.epa.gov/sbir/sbir-funding-opportunities.

TURI Publishes Nanomaterials Fact Sheet

Recently, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), a research, education, and policy center established by the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act of 1989, published a nanomaterials fact sheet.  The fact sheet is part of a series of chemical and material fact sheets developed by TURI that are intended to help Massachusetts companies, community organizations, and residents understand the use of hazardous substances and their effects on human health and the environment.  The fact sheet also includes information on safer alternatives and safer use options.

According to the fact sheet, TURI researchers have started a blueprint for design rules for safer nanotechnology.  The design rules include five principles, which together follow the acronym SAFER, as shown below.  The principles focus on aspects such as modifying physical-chemical characteristics of the material to diminish the hazard, considering alternative materials, and enclosing the material within another, less hazardous, material.  The fact sheet notes that other researchers have proposed other more specific design rules, which include avoiding chemical compositions of engineered nanomaterials that contain known toxic elements, and avoiding nanomaterials with dimensions that are known to possess hazardous properties.

Design Principles for SAFER Nanotechnology

  1. Size, surface, and structure: Diminish or eliminate the hazard by changing the size, surface, or structure of the nanoparticle while preserving the functionality of the nanomaterial for the specific application;
  2. Alternative materials: Identify either nano or bulk safer alternatives that can be used to replace a hazardous nanoparticle;
  3. Functionalization: Add additional molecules (or atoms) to the nanomaterial to diminish or eliminate the hazard while preserving desired properties for a specific application;
  4. Encapsulation: Enclose a nanoparticle within another less hazardous material; and
  5. Reduce the quantity: In situations where the above design principles cannot be used to reduce or eliminate the hazard of a nanomaterial, and continued use is necessary, investigate opportunities to use smaller quantities while still maintaining product functionality.

The fact sheet provides a summary of regulations concerning nanomaterials.  Massachusetts currently has no regulations specifically governing the use or release of nanomaterials.  At the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) primarily regulates nanomaterials under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The fact sheet notes that as of 2017, companies using or manufacturing nanomaterials that have not been subject to pre-manufacture notices or significant new use rules will be subject to a one-time reporting and recordkeeping rule.

Confirming the Chemical Identity

Philip Tackett, a certified HAZMAT responder and a Product Manager at FLIR, discusses its latest tool for chemical identification

 

By Philip Tackett

Civilian and military responders face scenarios ranging from intentional chemical attacks and accidental hazardous material (HAZMAT) releases to natural disasters and environmental monitoring or remediation efforts.  Responders step on-scene with a diverse toolkit – sometimes small and other times extensive.  It is critical to stay familiar with the equipment in the kit, because no single chemical detection tool can provide answers for every scenario.

Colorimetric test kits are one of the most commonly used technologies for quickly collecting presumptive information about a chemical.  They are used to determine if a threat is present and determine its chemical class.  This information is important, but knowing the exact identity of a chemical can inform a safer response.  True chemical identity can provide information to responders and law enforcement officials beyond the initial threat, and lead to further discoveries to further safeguard the public.

Griffin G510

While some detectors only indicate the presence of a chemical, others specifically detect hazards in the presence of a complex chemical background, like a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC/MS).  GC/MS is an incredibly sensitive and highly specific tool commonly used in laboratory environments.  It can sense trace level chemicals other equipment can’t, while also providing the ability to positively identify the chemical.  But chemical emergencies don’t just happen in laboratories – they can happen anywhere.

Real-time chemical detection and identification in the field is critical to the Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) defense or HAZMAT response mission.  Confirmatory chemical identification enables responders to mitigate a threat and protect people and the environment from harm.

The most challenging aspects of taking gold-standard technology like GC/MS into the field is survivability in harsh environments and ease of use.  Significant technological advancements have led to the development of the FLIR Griffin G510 person-portable GC/MS system.  Its lab-quality detection performance, simple-to-use interface, and rugged construction are ideal for high-consequence response missions.

Response missions take place in complex environments that the GC/MS must withstand.  The Griffin G510 is completely self-contained in a 36-pound device, including batteries, carrier gas, vacuum system, injector, and heated sample probe.  It is also the first IP65-rated portable GC/MS.  This means it’s dust-tight and spray-resistant, which adds flexibility to decontamination procedures.  There is no 40-pound external service module like other portable GC/MS systems and no 20-pound external pump under the bench like those seen in a laboratory.  Batteries last up to four hours and are hot swappable, should the mission extend longer than expected, which eliminates the need for a power generator.  The Griffin G510 is designed from the ground up to operate outside of the lab.

Griffin G510 syringe injection

Hazmat technicians will dive into using the features that deliver lab-quality analysis.  First on-scene operators will appreciate that they don’t need a Ph.D. to use it.  Basic operator training is completed in only two hours, while expert training can be completed in a single day.  The user interface truly sets it apart from other portable GC/MS systems.  It’s streamlined design and guided controls help the user select the mode of operation.  First responders must perform quickly and with limited dexterity when wearing required PPE.  They are responsible for sample and data collection, and in some cases, real-time decision making.  The G510 alerts the operator with visual alarm confirmation both on the handheld probe, as well as the on-board 9” touchscreen.  The large touchscreen can be operated by a responder while wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hazmat responders can use the Griffin G510 to analyze all phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas). Its integrated survey mode capability identifies vapor-phase chemical threats within seconds.  Its integrated split/splitless liquid injector enables responders to perform direct injection of organic liquids – an industry first.  This same injector also accepts other sampling tools, including solid-phase microextraction (SPME), off-the-shelf headspace analyzers, and the Prepless Sample Introduction (PSI) Probe.  The PSI-Probe directly accepts solid samples in their native form (such as soil and water-based materials).  The Griffin G510 reduces the burden of sample preparation for the operator and provides ultimate flexibility as the daily mission changes.

Hazardous environments demand the ultimate toolbox include confirmatory instrumentation like GC/MS. The Griffin G510 portable GC/MS redefines performance, ease of use, and value for the responder toolkit.

Griffin G510 – checking readout

CERCLA Trumps As-Is Sales

By Steven L. Hoch, Attorney, Clark Hill

A federal court in Alaska assessed responsibility against the City of Fairbanks (City) for remediation costs found necessary to clean up property it previously owned.  The court concluded that the City should have mitigated the problem or at least warned the purchaser about the contamination, even though the property was sold “As-Is”.  Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) liability is assessed without reference to cause.  Further, the court said that numerous courts have held that CERCLA liability cannot be defeated by contract, unless specifically and clearly addressed in the contract language.

In Gavora, Inc. v. City of Fairbanks , Case No. 4:15–cv-00015-SLG, BL 256894 (D. Alaska July 25, 2017), the City owned two parcels of land and Gavora held leasehold on one of the parcels. For a considerable length of time, a dry cleaning business operated in the shopping center located on their parcel.  Eventually, the contamination drew the attention of the State of Alaska, who told the City about the contamination and that they suspected the contamination migrated from that parcel to the other.  While the State did not verify the findings, the district court found it clear that the City knew or should have known that the first parcel was also contaminated.

Fairbanks Mall – Satellite Image showing borehole and monitoring well locations as well as PCE contamination levels

The City sold the first parcel to Gavora on an “As-Is, Where-Is” basis.  This sale occurred 10 years after the City first learned of the contamination on the second parcel.  When the purchase took place, Gavora did not perform its own environmental assessment.  Five years later, contamination was discovered on the first parcel owned by Gavora.  Lacking options, Gavora remediated the parcel and sued the City of Fairbanks for contribution.

Even though the sale was “As-Is”, the court nevertheless held the seller liable. Further, the court allocated 55% of the costs to the City and 45% of the costs to the current owner. The court rationalized that this allocation was appropriate because (1) the city knew or should have known of the contamination, yet failed to inform the purchaser; (2) the current owner made substantial corrective action efforts upon learning of the problem whereas the City took no action, and (3) it would be inequitable to hold the current owner responsible for contamination occurring prior to its master lease, but the court could not “effectively apportion the contamination”, but (4) the current owner would obtain a greater benefit than the prior owner from the remediation.

In the final analysis this case affirms that “As-Is” does not exculpate a seller from CERCLA liability, and that not disclosing contamination even when it did not make any representation to the contrary. As this was a district court opinion, it does not have significant legal value, but should not be dismissed out of hand when confronting similar issues.

 

This article was first published on the Clark Hill website.

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About the author

Steven Hoch has over 40 years of experience with both federal and state environmental laws and regulations in the context of permitting, regulatory proceedings, litigation, enforcement actions, water supply, public policy formation, and advice.  His work includes contamination of land and ground and surface water.  Steven has critical experience in the areas of environmental law and the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Acts, Title 23, water supply, and the mechanics of water distribution.  His experience also extends to groundwater modeling and water quality testing.  He also has significant experience in hazardous substances and waste handling practices, remediation, soil erosion, and claims of toxic exposures

Steven has in-depth experience working with numerous public water systems throughout the state.  He has also established a sterling reputation for his work with the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the Department of Toxic Substance Control, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency both in the administrative and litigation.  His clients range from the country’s largest municipal water agency to individuals selling or buying contaminated sites.

Steven often takes primary roles in many environmental trials, and has served as liaison counsel for groups or parties at the request of fellow counsel.  He has been involved in several landmark cases, including acting as PG&E’s counsel in the case made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich.

 

The Ninth Circuit Reiterates That “Knowingly” Handling Hazardous Waste Without a Permit Is a General Intent Crime Under RCRA

By Richard E. Stultz

Max Spatig was convicted of knowingly storing and disposing of hazardous waste without a permit and sentenced by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho to 46 months in prison under 42 U.S.C. § 6928(d)(2)(A). See U.S. v Spatig (2017) 2017 WL 4018398.  At trial, Spatig had sought to introduce evidence on his diminished capacity arguing that he did not have the required state of mind for the offense.  The district court, however, granted the government’s motion in limine to exclude all such evidence because § 6928(d)(2)(A) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) only required general intent and diminished capacity was not a defense to a general intent crime.

For years, Spatig had operated a business which used paint and paint-related materials.  Over time Spatig had accumulated several used containers of this material, some of which ended up on his residential property in Idaho.  In 2005, the county discovered the several containers and reported it to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Working with Spatig, DEQ collected and destroyed most of the containers.  In 2010, Spatig was again found to be storing used containers of paint and paint related materials on another of his properties.  This time the job was too big for local or state authorities so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was notified.  The U.S. EPA determined that the waste was hazardous and that a cleanup was necessary. The U.S. EPA removed approximately 3400 containers and spent $498,562 on the cleanup.  The EPA charged Spatig with violation of § 6928(d)(2)(A) for knowingly storing and disposing of a hazardous waste without a permit from either DEQ or the U.S. EPA.

Paint cans at a property off the Archer-Lyman Highway near Rexburg, Idaho

Spatig appealed his trial conviction and argued on appeal that § 6928(d)(2)(A) required specific intent.  He also took issue with the district court’s enhancement of his base sentence arguing that the cleanup did not result in a “substantial expenditure.”  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with Spatig and affirmed the district court.

Under § 6928(d)(2)(A), a person may not “knowingly” treat, store or dispose of a hazardous waste without a permit.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, “‘knowingly’ merely requires proof of knowledge of the facts that constitute the offense.”  The Ninth Circuit had also held that “knowingly” generally does not require specific intent.  In other words, a defendant’s particular purpose or objective is not required.  The Ninth Circuit previously rejected the argument that § 6928(d)(2)(A) required that a defendant know there was no permit for disposal.  The court held there that “knowingly” only required “that a defendant be aware that he is treating, storing, or disposing of something that he knows is hazardous.”  The court found that RCRA was a public-welfare statute and that “§6928(d)(2)(A) fits within a class of general-intent crimes that protect public health, safety, and welfare.”  Because § 6928(d)(2)(A) only requires general intent, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s exclusion of evidence at trial of Spatig’s state of mind.

Spatig argued that his sentence enhancement was error because the cleanup did not constitute a “substantial expenditure” required under the federal sentencing guidelines (U.S.S.G. § 2Q1.2(b)(3)).  The Ninth Circuit refused to establish a bright-line rule but noted that sister circuits had found that expenditures under $200,000 were “substantial.”  In upholding the district court, the Ninth Circuit noted that in the instant case the $498,562 underestimated the total cost because it did not include the local agencies’ expenditures.

This holding underscores the long-standing general purpose of environmental laws to protect the public welfare. These statutes do not generally require specific intent—only knowing of the act is required.

This article was first published on the Clark Hill website.

_________________

About the author

Richard E. Stultz brings over eighteen years of experience in the environmental, land development and petroleum industries to bear in his practice of law. In addition to his law degree, he also earned a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering. Richard’s practice is currently focused on environmental litigation.

Richard is experienced in law and motion filings and hearings. He is practiced in written discovery and legal research. Richard has even co-written a First Amendment argument submitted before the California Court of Appeal. He is familiar with California’s environmental laws and regulations.

While in law school, Richard interned at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office in the Real Property/Environment division. He researched and prepared a key memorandum regarding good will compensation in eminent domain.

U.S. EPA Evaluates Hurricane Harvey impact on U.S. Superfund Sites in Texas

In a September 8th update, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) stated that the two agencies continue to get updates about the status of specific Superfund sites from the parties responsible for ongoing cleanup of the sites.  The TCEQ has completed the assessment of all 17 state Superfund sites in the area affected by Hurricane Harvey.  The two agencies reported that there were no major issues noted.  The TCEQ will continue to monitor sites to ensure no further action is needed in regards to the storm.

The U.S. EPA completed site assessments at all 43 Superfund sites affected by the storm.  Of these sites, two (San Jacinto and U.S. Oil Recovery) require additional assessment efforts.  Assessments of these sites will take several more days to complete.

Harris County, Texas Superfund Sites Map

 

The San Jacinto Waste Pits site has a temporary armored cap designed to prevent migration of hazardous material.  The U.S. EPA remedial manager is onsite and overseeing the assessment.  Crews continue to survey portions of the cap that are submerged.  There are some areas where rock has been displaced and the liner is exposed.  The potential responsible party has mobilized heavy equipment and is placing rock on different places on the armored cap to repair the defensive surface. The liner is in place and functional so we don’t have any indication that the underlying waste materials have been exposed. If we find a breach in the exposed liner, we direct the responsible party to collect samples to determine if any materials have been released. Also, the EPA has dive teams to survey the cap underwater if needed.

Work to improve conditions after the storm has continued at the U.S. Oil Recovery site to address flood water from the storm.  Nine vacuum truckloads of approximately 45,000 gallons of storm water were removed and shipped offsite for disposal.  No sheen or odor was observed in the overflowing water, and an additional tank is being used to maintain freeboard to keep water on-site.  The U.S. EPA has directed potential responsible parties or has independently started collecting samples at the 43 Superfund sites to further confirm any impacts from the storm.  The total number of Superfund sites increased from 41 to 43 with the addition of Rapides Parish, Louisiana and Waller County, Texas as disaster declared areas.  Sampling efforts of all 43 sites is expected to be completed early next week with sample results will be available soon.

Victoria, B.C. faces Major Bill to Clean up Contaminated Park

As reported in Victoria News, Laurel Point Park is contaminated and the City of Victoria is looking at a potential $5-million bill to clean it up.

The City will spend up to $350,000 to confirm the degree of contamination and create a remediation plan.

The park, located along the David Foster Harbour Pathway next to property owned by Transport Canada, is contaminated with high levels of metal and petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil and groundwater, according to a staff report presented to council last week. Chemical discharges from nearby property likely contaminated the aquatic environment, water and the soil because of area’s industrial past, the report stated.

Laurel Point Park, Victoria, B.C.

For now, there is little risk to the public.  Counsellor Chris Coleman said the contamination is capped and secured, as long as it is left alone.

“If there was (a risk to the public), then we would close the park,” he said.

“It’s the sort of thing that we’ve seen in the past, when there was leeching from the Hartland Road landfill,” Coleman added. “It went into the groundwater … it then caused an algal bloom in the Butchart Gardens. That’s what you’re trying to control for here.”

The park, and the surrounding lands on the Laurel Point peninsula, were burial grounds for the Songhees people prior to 1885, after which it was used by various industrial facilities, including paint factories, machine shops, and for processing coal and oil.

Victoria council approved the next stage of SLR Consulting’s environmental investigation using money from the environmental remediation funds in city’s financial plan for 2017.

The next step in the process is a risk assessment, with an estimated cost of up to $150,000. It will take an additional $50,000 for the remediation plan, and up to $5 million to put the plan into action.

The surrounding land owned by Transport Canada will also have to be excavated and disposed off-site, according to preliminary reports.

New Method to Quickly and Cheaply Determine Metal Contamination at Sites

In a recent paper in the Journal of Environmental Pollution, researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia describe a new accurate, rapid and inexpensive method for assessing metal-contaminated sites.  The paper describes the results of in-field trials of the new method and comparison of it to lab results.

The new method uses a combination of portable X-ray Fluorescence technology (pXRF) – a popular on-site contamination-measuring system – with conventional laboratory analysis to accurately measure the extent and distribution of metal contamination at a site.

“Metal-contaminated sites are often haphazard when it comes to the distribution of metal contaminants, making it problematic for investigators when they are limited by the costs associated with analyzing a large number of samples in the lab.  As such, investigators are expected to attempt to characterize contaminated sites with a limited number of laboratory measurements to save on costs,” said lead author Marek Rouillon.

“On the other hand, when investigators are free to take a large number of measurements to determine the contamination at a site, they gain a greater understanding of the extent and distribution of the contamination, therefore lowering the risk of site misclassification,” Rouillon added.

As a result, the researchers wanted to develop a way to measure more samples using a rapid on-site measurement method that produced results in an accurate and more cost effective manner than current techniques allowed.

“To achieve this, we decided to integrate the advantages of in-situ pXRF, an inexpensive measurement method that can be done on-site allowing investigators to collect real-time data, with the more thorough laboratory analysis technique of ICP–MS,” explained Rouillon.

The study, described in the Journal article, demonstrated that 20 second in-situ pXRF measurements can be corrected to align with a small subset of ICP–MS data, allowing for the accurate, rapid and inexpensive high resolution characterization of metal-contaminated sites.  The researchers found that sampling (not analysis) contributes the greatest uncertainty towards measurements, and should be estimated at each metal-contaminated site.

“Measuring contaminants in real-time using in-situ pXRF enables efficient, on-site decision making for further sampling, without the need to return to the site,” explained Professor Mark Taylor.  “This is an incredibly useful way to go about testing for metal contamination at a site.”

The researchers emphasize that the new method has several benefits including superior site characterization, greater soil-mapping resolution, reduced uncertainty around the site mean and reduced sampling uncertainty.

“Our in-situ pXRF/ICP–MS method not only generates superior site assessment information for more confident decision making, but is less expensive when compared to the current standard practice of merely sampling and off-site laboratory measurements,” concluded Professor Rouillon.

Tribunal gives Ontario Environment Ministry Broad Preventative Powers over Migrating Contamination

by Stanley D. Berger

On September 1, 2017, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal in the matter of Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. et al. v. the Director, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change made a preliminary ruling that the Director had jurisdiction to make an order under s.18 of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) requiring a person who owns or owned, or has or had management or control of a contaminated undertaking or property to delineate contamination that had already migrated to off-site properties. The property in question, formerly a small-appliance manufacturing business, was contaminated and the various contaminants were of concern to the Ministry, having migrated to other Picton residential, commercial and institutional properties where they might be entering nearby buildings by vapour intrusion. Section 18 of the EPA provides that the Director may make orders preventing, decreasing or eliminating an adverse effect that may result from the discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking or the presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property. The Director’s Order was challenged on three grounds:

  1. The adverse effect the Director could address was limited to a future event or circumstance (given that s.18 is prospective and preventative);
  2. The adverse effect had to relate to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant that was on an orderee’s property at the time the order was made;
  3. The order could require work only on site but not off-site, to address the risk of an adverse effect.

The Tribunal rejected all three arguments, reasoning that adverse effects resulting from contamination were frequently ongoing rather than static, with no clear line between existing and future effects. The Tribunal looked to the purpose of the EPA which was to protect and conserve the natural environment and found the orderees’ arguments were inconsistent with this purpose. Contamination and adverse effects were not constrained by property boundaries and therefore it was immaterial whether the contaminant was on the orderee’s property at the time the order was made. Finally, the list of requirements that could be ordered under s.18(1) EPA included off-site work. _________________

About the Author

Mr. Berger has practiced regulatory law for 36 years. He is a partner at Fogler Rubinoff LLP. He is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in Environmental Law. He represents nuclear operators and suppliers in regulatory and environmental matters and in the negotiation of risk clauses in supply contracts and government indemnity agreements.He has prosecuted and defended environmental , occupational health and safety and criminal charges . He represents clients on access to information appeals before Ontario’s Freedom of Information Commission. He has also represented First Nations seeking equity partnerships in renewable energy projects. He started as an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto (1981), became the Deputy Director for Legal Services /Prosecutions at the Ministry of the Environment (1991) and Assistant General Counsel at Ontario Power Generation Inc.(1998-2012) During his 14 years at OPG, Mr. Berger won the President’s Award for his legal contribution to the Joint Review Panel environmental assessment and licensing hearing into the Nuclear New Build Project for Clarington . He won a Power Within Award for his legal support of the Hosting Agreement with local municipalities for the project to create a long term deep geologic repository for low and intermediate nuclear waste in Tiverton, Ontario.

 

Validation of handheld X-Ray Fluorescence for In-Situ Measurement of Mercury in Soils

Researchers recently reported the results of an evaluation of a handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device as a field screening tool for soil mercury as part of on-going remedial investigations along the South River in Waynesboro, Virginia.  As reported by the research team, the method achieved a detection limit of 7.4 mg/kg Hg with a 60-s analysis time, which improves upon earlier attempts and is sufficient for detecting mercury at generic risk assessment soil screening levels (23 mg/kg Hg).  The study also demonstrated levels of accuracy and precision for the method that rivaled traditional laboratory methods.  In a split-sample comparison with laboratory Method 7471A, field XRF results agreed with an R2 of 0.93 and a median coefficient of variation of 15%.  Precision estimates from duplicate and triplicate samples were not statistically different between the two methods and were constrained by sample heterogeneity rather than by method capabilities.

The study demonstrated that handheld XRF can be successfully used at contaminated sites to achieve high quality Hg results that are accurate, precise, and at a level of sensitivity commensurate with generic risk assessment screening levels.

Schematic of an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device