Researchers Invent a Sponge for Oil Spill Cleanup

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Lab recently announced that that had invented a new material that could completely revolutionize the way oil spills are cleaned up.

The sponge foam, called Oleo Sponge, can soak up 90 times its own weight in oil before it needs to be wrung out to be reused — and the oil can be recovered.

                                                                                                                   Oleo Sponge

“The material is extremely sturdy. We’ve run dozens to hundreds of tests, wringing it out each time, and we have yet to see it break down at all,” co-inventor Seth Darling said in a release.

Currently, most products for cleaning up oil are single use, and the oil is wasted.  One of the most common products is a sorbent boom — a long tube that’s thrown on the surface of the water to soak up part of the spill, before being removed to be safely disposed of.  It, and other solutions, can be pricey and slow.

Darling and his team tested the sponge at a giant seawater tank at the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility in New Jersey.

The researchers say it could be used to clean harbors and ports, where diesel and oil can accumulate from ships. They say it could also be adapted to clean different substances, by modifying the type of molecule that grabs onto the dirty substance.

The Argonne National Laboratory is a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center. The Laboratory was born out of the University of Chicago’s work on the Manhattan Project in the 1940.

Free Webinar on Management Excess Soil

A free webinar on the about the recently launched Excess Soils By-Law Tool and the Ontario Excess Soil Management Policy Framework will be held on February 17th from noon to 1 pm (EST).  The tool provides links to municipal site alteration and fill by-lawsin Southern Ontario and guidance about how to address common issues through municipal by-laws including permits, fill management plans and fees and cost recovery.

Hosted by the Canadian Urban Institute, the free webinar is scheduled for February 17th from 12:00-1:00 PM (EST).

Excess soil is typically generated during excavation during construction.  It is considered an important resource as it supports plant growth, stores and filters water and provides habitat for organisms, among other functions.  To help preserve this resource, good soil management practices should be implemented to minimize soil excavation during construction and allow for reuse on site. When excess soils are generated, they may be used at another site for a beneficial purpose, provided do not have an adverse effect on the receiving site or impair the water quality.

The Ontario Excess Soil Management Policy Framework is a policy framework for soil management that supports the reuse of excess soil for beneficial uses, in a way that protects human health and the environment.  The final framework contains two key goals related to excess soil:

·       Protect human health and the environment from inappropriate relocation of excess soil; and

·       Enhance opportunities for the beneficial reuse of excess soil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the movement of excess soil.

The Excess Soil Management Policy Framework also includes a set of principles to guide policy and program development, a description of existing policy, roles and responsibilities and a series of policy needs, actions and priorities to move forward on.

The State of Green Business in 2017

According to the 2017 State of Green Business Report authored by GreenBiz Group Inc., companies continue to ratchet up their commitments and achievements on renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable supply chains, water and land stewardship, the circular economy and other aspects of a sustainable enterprise.  Technology continued its inexorable march, accelerating sustainability solutions in energy, buildings, transportation, food and just about everywhere else.

However, the report also states that indicators continue to be troubling including global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and the loss of natural capital.  The report further states that the recent U.S. election brings into question the future of future climate action and environmental protection.

The report predicts that the coming year or two in the U.S. may see head-snapping policy shifts as the public and private sector grapple with two seemingly unstoppable forces: the political momentum of an increasingly nationalist and protectionist world, and the wrath of a changing climate on a civilization ill-prepared to cope.

On the brighter side, the report states that corporate innovation, boosted by technology’s rampant pace, is enabling radical new levels of efficiency in materials, energy, water and other resources.  The Internet of Things — the interconnected world of tens of billions of objects that can talk to one another, and to us, and make real-time optimization decisions — is enabling buildings, vehicles, power grids, factories and many other things to do far more with fewer resources.  Cities and regions are accelerating their quest to become greener and more resilient, luring corporations to relocate there amid transit hubs and culture centers.

 

$350M Spent on Planning the Remediation of a Yukon Mine

According to a recent article in the National Post, over $350 million has been spent to clean up an abandoned mine in the Yukon with no actual work being done at the site.  The Treasury Board of Canada’s annual report revealed that no actual remediation has occurred at the Faro Mine in Yukon over the past decade although considerable sums of money have been spent on studying and planning.

Classified as one of Canada’s largest contaminated site, the Faro Mine covers 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres).  The mine is located 15 kilometres (9 miles) north of the Town of Faro in Yukon Territory. The mine operated from 1969 to 1998, when its last operator declared bankruptcy and abandoned the site.

The mine site has approximately 70 million tonnes of tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock that require remediation to protect human health, as well as the local land, water and wildlife.

The remediation of the Faro mine site is being led by the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon.  This includes representatives from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s Northern Contaminated Sites Program and from the Assessment and Abandoned Mines branch of the Government of Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

The financial responsibility for the site resides with the Government of Canada who provides funding for care and maintenance operations and remediation planning through the Federal Contaminated Sites Program.

“The biggest problem has been figuring out what to do,” said Lou Spagnuolo, the Vancouver-based Faro mine remediation project director for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), which has the lead on the mine clean-up, and is also working with the Yukon government and affected First Nations communities.

Between 2003 and 2009, more than 100 technical studies and assessments were undertaken, and 12 plans created to deal with various levels of government and affected communities.  A remediation plan was supposed to be in place by 2011.

In 2009, remediating the site was projected to take another 40 years and cost $450 million, according to a statement made at the time by a committee of senior officials from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (as it was known at the time), the Yukon Government, Selkirk First and Ross River Dena Council.

Parsons Corp., a California-based engineering and construction giant, recently won a $58-million contract to provide care and maintenance at the Faro mine site over the next four years.  Before Parsons, Denison Mines Inc. had the contract for $32 million.

These numbers are out of whack with the Treasury Board of Canada annual reports, which indicate that since 2005, just over $29 million has been spent on care and maintenance at the Faro mine, while more than $241 million has been spent on remediation.

The Yukon Conservation Society, a local environmental non-profit, is calling for an audit of Faro mine spending.  “Canadian taxpayers have already spent more than a quarter-billion dollars, and nothing has happened,” said Lewis Rifkind, the organization’s mining analyst.  “There hasn’t been any remediation or results on the ground.  We have no idea where the money has gone, and they’re still issuing contracts like crazy,” he added.

Spagnuolo, the Faro mine remediation project director, estimates that $150 million has been spent on care and maintenance at Faro.  Annual monitoring, regulatory compliance and site assessments, which are not included in care and maintenance contracts, have cost another $60 million, he said. Addressing problems at the deteriorating site, including installing a new water treatment system and covering a section of waste rock that was releasing contaminates, have cost an additional $60 million.  The remaining $80 million went to “overhead,” said Spagnuolo, including First Nation consultations and government salaries.

Consulting costs of the Faro mine remediation include the $82 million paid to CH2M Hill since 2011, according to the Yukon government’s contract registry.

The current timeframe for a remediation plan is 2018.  It is anticipated that the plan will include re-sloping the waste rock piles, installing engineered soil covers over the tailings and waste rock, and upgrading the contaminated water collection and treatment system.

If the plan is approved and the federal government agrees to foot the bill, actual remediation activities are expected to begin in 2024 and take about 40 years to complete.

Bioremediation of long-term PCB-contaminated Soil

Researchers at the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic along with collaborators from other Universities in Europe recently released a paper that describes how white rot fungi was effective at reducing the level of PCB contamination in soil.

In addition to the efficiency in PCB removal, attention was given to other important parameters, such as changes in the toxicity and formation of PCB transformation products.  Moreover, structural shifts and dynamics of both bacterial and fungal communities were monitored using next-generation sequencing and phospholipid fatty acid analysis.

The best results were obtained with the fungus P. ostreatus, which resulted in PCB removals of 18.5, 41.3 and 50.5% from the bulk, top (surface) and rhizosphere, respectively, of dumpsite soils after 12 weeks of treatment.  Numerous transformation products were detected (hydoxylated and methoxylated PCBs, chlorobenzoates and chlorobenzyl alcohols), which indicates that both fungi were able to oxidize and decompose the aromatic moiety of PCBs in the soils.  Microbial community analysis revealed that P. ostreatus efficiently colonized the soil samples and suppressed other fungal genera.  However, the same fungus substantially stimulated bacterial taxa that encompass putative PCB degraders.

The researchers concluded that the results of their study finally demonstrated the feasibility of using this fungus for possible scaled-up bioremediation applications.

 

U.S. Company to pay $1.4M Penalty for improper hazardous waste disposal

The U.S. EPA recently issued a news release in that states that Innophos Holdings Inc.a phosphate plant in Louisiana, will pay a $1.4 million penalty for sending hazardous waste to a neighbouring plant that does not have a permit to store, treat, or dispose of hazardous waste.

The company, which is headquartered in New Jersey, issued a statement about the settlement with U.S. EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) which said that it deals with “a small number of manufacturing processes” at its Louisiana plant in the Community of Geismar.

As part of the Settlement, Innophos will pursue implementation of “Deep Well Injection” to manage its waste, a process approved by the U.S. EPA and the Louisiana DEQ by which Innophos would handle a separated co-product (referred to as “Raffinate”).  This solution allows the Company to continue its current phosphate production operation in Geismar, while satisfying the outstanding environmental concerns raised in 2008 by the U.S. EPA and the Louisiana DEQ.  The Settlement also confirms several proactive and voluntary improvements previously made to the Geismar facility to address these environmental concerns, further demonstrating the Company’s commitment to environmental stewardship at its facilities.

Kim Ann Mink, Chief Executive Officer of Innophos, commented, “We are committed to supporting our Phosphoric Acid customers’ needs and believe that the terms of this settlement position us to be able to do so by securing the long-term viability of our Geismar PPA plant.  We believe that the agreed upon solution addresses all environmental concerns with minimal effect on our business and operations.”

Innophos recently received a permit from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“LDNR”) to begin construction of its Deep Well Injection System, which began in late 2016 and is expected to be completed by early 2018.  The Company estimates that the capital expenditure for the Deep Well Injection System will be $16 million.

Innophos is a producer of specialty ingredient solutions for the food, health, nutrition and industrial markets. Innophos has manufacturing operations across the United States, in Canada, Mexico and China.

U.S. pipeline regulator issues rule to speed up notification time

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently issued a rule to improve pipeline operational safety, including a requirement for faster notification following a spill.

The rule says the operator must electronically or telephonically report notice of an accident or incident within one hour of confirmation, PHMSA said in a statement.

There have been growing concerns regarding the safety of pipelines transporting hazardous liquids, after activists spent months protesting plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying the project poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites.

PHMSA’s rule also includes provisions for operator qualification, cost recovery and other pipeline safety changes and will become effective 60 days from the date of its publication in the Federal Register. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 23, 2017.

PHMSA said the rule also amends drug and alcohol testing requirements.  It now requires drug testing of employees after an accident and will allow exemption only when there is sufficient information that establishes the employees had no role in the accident.

The proposed changes come after incidents such as in 2010 when an Enbridge Energy Partners pipeline spill near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River leaked crude oil for about 17 hours before it was confirmed by control room operators.

Pipeline leak detection systems typically relay information to a control room, where trained operators are often required to distinguish between false alarms and real leaks.

Ontario Government to handle contaminated land at Stelco

As recently reported in the Hamilton Spectator, the Ontario Government stated it will assume the environmental legacy issues associated with contamination at the Stelco property in the north end of Hamilton.  The reason for the decision by the Ontario Government is to make it easier for the sale of the company and keep steelworker jobs.

U.S. Steel Canada (Stelco) is the current owner of the steelworks and is in negotiations to sell the company to Bedrock Industries, an American investment fund.  As part of the sale-purchase agreement, Bedrock Industries was reportedly willing to put forward $80 million in a one-time payment that would partially fund the clean-up.

The environmental clean-up costs at the Stelco property is unknown but could be astronomical.  As a point of reference, the Canadian and Nova Scotia governments committed $400 million in 2007 to clean-up contamination from the steel plant in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

The commitment by the Province of Ontario to backstop the future environmental clean-up costs in order to aid in the sale of a company is a first in the Province.  The reasoning behind the decision is that it makes the Stelco and the lands it sits on a potentially valuable investment.  Any costs bore by the Province in clean-up would be balanced by the taxes and other benefits accrued with the infusion of new ownership in Stelco and redevelopment of unused lands at the property.

As reported in the Hamilton Spectator, the land deal would work like this:

  • All 325 hectares of Stelco property off Wilcox Street would be turned into a land trust administered by the province, union representatives and probably other parties such as the city and the Hamilton Port Authority.
  • The land trust then would lease 120 hectares back to Stelco. The company would then be able to operate without fear of costs associated with the contaminated ground it is operating on.
  • The remaining 200 hectares or so would then be remediated to an industrial use standard with the contribution from Bedrock and potentially other funds. That land would then be sold or leased.
  • Profits from the sale or lease would then be used to assist in shoring up pension funds for Stelco workers as well as to help finance benefits to pensioners.

The land proposal is part of a larger deal that as part of U.S. Steel’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings that have been continuing for two years.  CCAA has been compared proceedings under “Chapter 11” of the “Bankruptsy Code” in the United States.  If successful, Stelco will emerge from creditors’ protection under Bedrock ownership with a new lease on life.

Emergency Response Training Exercises Conducted in Quebec

As reported by Canadian Underwriter, Transport Canada (TC) and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) recently conducted a field exercise designed to improve Canada’s response capabilities in the event of an incident involving a train carrying flammable liquids, such as crude oil.

TC and DRDC, an agency of the Department of National Defence, conducted Exercise Athéna on Feb. 25 and 26 in Lévis, Que.  The exercise provided a “unique forum for petroleum and railway industry experts and the first response community to improve effectiveness when responding to incidents involving a train carrying flammable liquids,” a TC backgrounder explained.

On the first day, first responders attended in-class and field training where they learned about the Emergency Response Assistance Plan program and resources available from industry and TC.  They also received information on the appropriate practices, strategies and tools to use when responding to a train derailment, including how to conduct a comprehensive site assessment; how to identify railcars that can carry hazardous material and dangerous goods placards (i.e. labels that appear on the side of train tankers which identify the hazardous substance or flammable liquid that is being transported); and an overview of basic railway operations during an incident, and specialized industry response strategies and tactics.

On the second day, first responders were able to practice the skills and knowledge they received on the first day by participating in an exercise comprised of three rotations, with “industry instructors” providing guidance at each of the stations.  The stations involved either a virtual reality application or a real life scenario.

In particular, in the first scenario, participants faced a simulated train derailment.  Using tablets, they had to conduct a comprehensive site assessment, including the following aspects: identifying the type of railcar based on its physical features and using the markings to identify the contents; making a preliminary damage assessment from a safe distance; and developing a risk assessment that takes into account the risk to life, health, property and the environment.

In the second scenario, participants were faced with an actual fire using a replicated railcar prop. Participants were tested for the appropriate response strategies, techniques and procedures to use when dealing with this type of fire.

The third scenario consisted of a combination of three interactive activities related to the government’s Emergency Response Guidebook 2016, gas detection and air monitoring methods and exposing responders to the different types of industry response equipment.

The event will build on those from Exercise Vulcan in March in Maple Ridge, B.C.  The most recent exercise is one activity supported by the Government of Canada to improve response capabilities following the 2013 train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

The project is led by Transport Canada and funded through the Canadian Safety and Security Program, a federally-funded program led by DRDC’s Centre for Security Science, in partnership with Public Safety Canada.

Partners in the exercise included: first responders from rural Quebec, Association des chefs en sécurité incendie du Québec, École nationale des pompiers du Québec, l’Institut maritime du Québec, International Safety Research, Suncor Energy, CN Rail, CP Rail, Railway Association of Canada, Genesee and Wyoming Canada Inc., Emergency Response Assistance Canada, MD-UN, GHD Canada, Williams Fire and Hazard Control, Inc.

B.C. contaminated soil landfill loses Environmental Permit

The British Columbia (B.C.) Ministry of the Environment (MOE) recently canceled the environmental permit for Cobble Hill Holdings for the operation of its contaminated soil landfill.  The landfill, located near Shawnigan Lake in British Columbia, had been use as a quarry.  A consortium of companies own and manage the landfill.  The companies include South Island Aggregates (SIA), Cobble Hill Holding (CBH), and South Island Resource Management (SIRM).  The permit, issued by the B.C. Environment Ministry permits the disposal of approximately 5 million tonnes of contaminated soil at the landfill.

In a written statement, Mary Polak, the B.C. Minister of the Environment stated, ““Effective immediately, I am cancelling the waste discharge permit for Cobble Hill Holdings because the company has failed to meet the requirements outlined in my Jan. 27 letter.

“The company was given 15 business days to provide three required documents and submitted only two prior to the deadline given. Specifically, the company failed to provide the Province with adjusted financial security in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit.

In the written statement, the Minister Polak further states that the company failed to respond to outstanding non-compliances and missed deadlines with respect to the permit.

The letter further states that B.C. MOE are taking actions to ensure material on the property is managed in a way that does not present a risk to human health or the environment.  The letter does not specify the exact nature of the actions.

The minister’s letter of cancellation and reasons for decision can be found at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/air-land-water/site-permitting-compliance/sia

The cancellation of the permit by the Minister of the Environment follows the January 24th release of a judicial review of the permitting process in which Justice Robert Sewell documented misrepresentation during the approval process including conflict of interest and “false and misleading information.”

South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings was granted a permit back in 2013 under the B.C. Environmental Management Act (EMA) to receive contaminated soils and ash and process it through bioremediation or landfilling, and discharge treated effluent to an ephemeral stream.  The permit is specific to contaminated soil management activities. There has been fierce opposition to the landfill since that time.

Sonia Furstenau, the Cowichan Valley regional director who led the fight against the landfill, said, “We are happy the government cancelled the permit, but the cancellation leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the cleanup.”

The landfill operation is occurring at a quarry operated by South Island Aggregates.  The quarry operations are regulated by the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines under the B.C. Mines Act.

There are approximately 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes of contaminated soil landfilled at the site.  The Minister of the Environment would not comment on if it threatened local health and the environment.  She said MOE technical staff would determine what would need to be removed.