The Science and Politics of Risk Assessments

How much of a role do non-scientific factors play in shaping our environmental and public health policies?  Are we doing a good job in objectively evaluating the data that influence these policies?

In a recent survey, George Mason University set out to see what the scientific community believes drives environmental policy.  The report, “Expert Opinion on Regulatory Risk Assessment” surveyed three professional organizations:  The Risk Assessment Specialty Section of the Society of Toxicology, The Dose Response Section of the Society for Risk Analysis, and the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.

The results were not encouraging (if you believe science should drive the decision making process).  The report states in part, “…too little attention is being given to scientific factors and economic costs and benefits, and too much attention is given to environmental groups, the precautionary principle, media coverage, and political concerns.”

The criticism from the professional organizations includes the lack of scientific rigor currently being used.  For example, a major part of risk assessment involves acquiring and evaluation of data.  Yet, only 31% of the respondents report that “in their experience, such underlying raw data are ‘often’ or ‘always’ made available to assessors…”

Similarly, only 24% of the respondents report that “…consistent and transparent criteria are often or always used to evaluate the quality and reliability of studies.”

When asked how much weight risk managers give to a certain factor verses how much weight should be given, it’s quite a contrast.  Ideally, risk managers believe they should focus on science, economic costs/benefits, and legal implications.  In reality, it’s legal implications, political concerns, the precautionary principle, and environmental groups that get the greatest “weight of concern.”

Interestingly, political affiliation of the scientist had little or no bearing on what they believed was important – 99% of liberals and 100% of conservatives believe that scientific factors should have the greatest weight.

Policies relating to protection of our health, the health of our environment, and our economy can have significant and far-reaching impacts.  Relegating decisions regarding these important issues to the most vocal, or what seems to be the most politically advantageous at the moment, is reckless and short sighted…and…in all likelihood, will not change any time soon.

To see a copy of the report from George Mason University, click here.

Should you use ASTM E1527-13 for CERCLA Liability Protection?

On November 6, 2013, ASTM International, Inc. (ASTM) approved the long-awaited ASTM E1527-13, the Standard Practice for Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.  As far as ASTM is concerned, the new E1527-13 officially replaces the 2005 version (E1527-05).  However, if your environmental due diligence goal includes receiving Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) liability protection under the federal All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI), E1527-13 may not be your best choice.

ASTM considers E1527-13 to have immediately replaced E1527-05.  But from the perspective of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the AAI Rule states that E1527-05 may be used to comply with CERCLA. 

While the EPA will reportedly be formally revising the AAI Rule to recognize E1527-13, they have not done so at the time of this writing.  So, until EPA updates AAI, it may be best to continue to use E1527-05 if the goal includes CERCLA liability protection.

Our advice is to formulate a path forward with input from your environmental advisors (environmental consultants and legal counsel) that will afford you the appropriate liability protection.

If you have questions about environmental due diligence, including Phase I or Phase II Environmental Site Assessments, contact Mark Resch (mresch@dragun.com) or Jeff Bolin, M.S., CHMM (jbolin@dragun.com) at 248-932-0228.

(Thanks to Mark Resch for providing the content of this blog entry)

Environmental Violations at Largest Retailer in US Has a $110 Million Price Tag

Wal-Mart’s staggering fine of $81 million for violations under the Clean Water Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act is sure to get the attention of other retailers.  According to the news release by the Environmental Protection Agency,Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty today in cases filed by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States. The Bentonville, Ark.-based company also pleaded guilty today in Kansas City, Mo., to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers at its stores across the country.”

The release goes on to say, “As a result of the three criminal cases brought by the Justice Department, as well as a related civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Wal-Mart will pay approximately $81.6 million for its unlawful conduct. Coupled with previous actions brought by the states of California and Missouri for the same conduct, Wal-Mart will pay a combined total of more than $110 million to resolve cases alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws.”

It appears one of the biggest failings of Wal-Mart in these violation was lack of training, resulting in “hazardous wastes…either discarded improperly at the store level – including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system.”

For more information about the Wal-Mart Case follow this link: http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/waste/cases/walmart.html

If you have questions about environmental compliance, (storm water, groundwater, wastewater, air, etc…) feel free to contact Matthew Schroeder, P.E. (mschroeder@dragun.com) at 248-932-0228.

 

New Superfund Listings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

On May 24, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will publish a rule in the Federal Register proposing to add 9 new sites to the National Priorities List (NPL).  The EPA will also add 9 sites to the final NPL bringing the total number of sites to 1320.

New Proposed Sites

South Bend, Indiana: Beck’s Lake

Garden City, Indiana: Garden City Ground Water Plume

Indianapolis, Indiana: Keystone Corridor Ground Water Contamination

Missoula, Montana: Smurfit-Stone Mill

Oxford, North Carolina: Cristex Drum

Gastonia, North Carolina: Hemphill Road TCE

Farmington, New Hampshire: Collins & Aikman Plant (Former)

Creek County, Oklahoma: Wilcox Oil Company

Neah Bay, Washington: Makah Reservation Warmhouse Beach Dump

For more information on the new proposed sites, click here http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/newprop.htm

New Final Sites

Macon, Georgia: Macon Naval Ordnance Plant

Martinsville, Indiana: Pike and Mulberry Streets PCE Plume

Iola, Kansas: Former United Zinc & Associated Smelters

Attleboro, Massachusetts: Walton & Lonsbury Inc.

Danvers, Massachusetts: Creese & Cook Tannery (Former)

Newark, New Jersey: Riverside Industrial Park

Woolwich Township, New Jersey: Matlack, Inc.

Harriman, Tennessee: Clinch River Corporation

Salt Lake City, Utah: 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume

For more information on the new final sites, click here http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/newfin.htm

 

Hydraulic Fracturing and Communicating Environmental Risks

At first blush, it would seem that hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling technology to harvest natural gas is an environmental panacea:

  • It provides abundant natural gas, which reduces the need for coal.  Using natural gas as opposed to coal reduces (among other emissions) global warming gases and NOx emissions – which, in turn, reduce eutrophication and acid rain.
  • The surface footprint for drilling is reduced as more subsurface drilling is accomplished with horizontal drilling.
  • And regulators from former EPA administer Lisa Jackson to state regulators have by and large offered support for the technology.

…perfect, right?  Not so much.

Why some view “fracking” as a panacea and others view it as an unacceptable risk is, perhaps, one of those environmental communication dilemmas.  Dr. Peter Sandman’s formula for environmental communication may help explain the current state of hydraulic fracturing (Risk = Hazard + Outrage).

Dr. Sandman offers a couple of other environmental risk communication thoughts to consider:

  1. Are people upset about a risk because they think it’s dangerous?  If this is the case, then the solution is to convince them it’s not dangerous, or
  2. Do people think it’s dangerous because they’re upset?  If this is the case, then the solution is to stop upsetting them.

Generally, it’s the latter of the two.  Obviously, this makes it that much more difficult from the standpoint of communication, because to stop upsetting them usually means ceasing your operations.

To make matters worse, technical people try to appease upset stakeholders by providing more data!  How well does that work?  Again, according to Sandman, they will resist data, and when you prove they are wrong, outrage is magnified.

Communicating environmental risks, whether it’s from hydraulic fracturing, manufacturing a widget, or farming, may well be one of the most challenging tasks for any business.  And if you think the answer is simply more data…then be prepared for more outrage.

Stakeholders (upset or otherwise) are informed daily by blogs, tweets, and various on-line communities.  And this reality will continue to pressure companies of all shapes and sizes to think seriously about how they communicate to minimize the outrage factor, not necessarily the hazard…and this is no small task!

This post (by Jack Benton) has nothing to do with environmental issues, but is a rather “chilling” reminder to us all about distracted driving.

EHS Safety News America

This video seems to have a viral history across the internet and I’m told this occurred on a highway in Russia. None the less, watch the vehicle directly ahead of the vehicle filming this.  While we don’t know the cause of the vehicle losing control…. for obvious reasons, this should be  a warning to us all, especially in bad weather.

See how quickly your life could change by taking your eyes of the road for “one split second”?  Please Don’t Text or engage in any other task that will cause you to be distracted while driving, and always maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.


 Safe Driving Tips!

Every driver should have the goal to be as safe as possible on the road.

The 2 most important habits that will prevent collisions are diligent observation and keeping space around your vehicle

A drivers eyes should…

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The Politics of the Environment

It’s all about getting along, living green, and saving the planet. This is the naïve view of many of the young college graduates whose only exposure to the environmental consulting world is the college campus and an internship with a local environmental group.

In reality, the environmental business is extremely political, tends toward the “ugly,” and can devastate individuals and companies.

Case in point is the video that surfaced earlier this year, where the (now former) EPA Region 6 Administrator drew an analogy between Roman crucifixion and EPA enforcement action. Here is an excerpt from this now infamous video.

“It’s kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law and you hit them as hard as you can and make examples of them.”

While there has been plenty of backpedaling, apologies, explanations, and at least one resignation, this comment or perhaps more appropriately, this attitude or ideology, reflects a part of the real environmental challenge faced by businesses.

Is this attitude shared by every regulator? Clearly not – but when companies are facing site closures, remediation, or compliance issues, especially those involving enforcement, they cannot afford to have a naïve viewpoint or to simply follow the orders or dictates of a regulator. To do so, could mean no end to the regulator’s “requests.”

Taking a tough stance and using good science to back our position is something we have done consistently since we began, nearly 25 years ago. In fact, a paper mill company we worked for many years ago set the tone for how we approach projects on behalf of our clients. The “no action” we were able to negotiate was critical for our client. A recent update by the EPA further vindicates the science we used to design our approach.

As for getting along, living green, and saving the planet – if it’s backed by science, logic, and reason, we’re right there. However, we’ll have to descent on the approach of crucifixion as a means of enforcement.

Vapor Intrusion: Update on EPA’s Actions

On April 12, 2012, one of my colleagues, Dr. Khaled Chekiri, attended the “USEPA and Region V States Vapor Intrusion Video Conference Roundtable.”  The Video Conference was hosted by Barnes & Thornburg, LLP in their Grand Rapids, MI office. 

Some of the issues discussed included:

  • Decision making criteria for ruling VI in/out
  • Screening levels for contaminants with no published inhalation toxicity criteria (e.g., cis-1,2-DCE, MTBE)
  • Methane accumulation underneath buildings resulting from bioremediation of chlorinated compounds
  • Standard method recommended by EPA (sampling, leak detection)
  • The role of sub-slab pressure tests, indoor air tests; frequency of testing; the need for long-term monitoring
  • Vapor movement through soils and VI conducted in wetter climates with various soil regimes
  • Sub-slab testing protocols for large buildings (commercial/industrial settings)
  • Coordination with OSHA
  • Guidelines for dry cleaners who no longer use PCE (pick-up/drop off)
  • Criteria for requiring  installation of mitigation systems in residential and commercial settings
  • Discussion of radon mitigation system applicability to vapor mitigation
  • Long-term operation, maintenance, and monitoring guidelines for mitigation systems
  • Passive and long-term sampling
  • Decision making criteria when a VI mitigation system is no longer needed
  • Post-mitigation testing regime for a building

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) stated they are still committed to November 2012 for final Vapor Intrusion (VI) guidance.  The guidance will address changes in toxicity values for PCE and TCE, mitigation methods, vapors related to petroleum hydrocarbons, and acceptable institutional controls.

Finally, a document that provides a conceptual model scenario for the VI Pathway is available for free download at http://www.epa.gov/oswer/vaporintrusion/.  The model may provide a “visual” help in determining the source location for various site conditions.  For example, the model shows that the distribution of petroleum compounds in soil gas can be very different from that of chlorinated compounds. 

This is just a brief overview of the four-hour conference.  If you have specific questions about VI, contact our Vice President of Technical Operations, Jeffrey Bolin, M.S., CHMM (jbolin@dragun.com) or Khaled Chekiri, Ph.D., P.E. (kchekiri@dragun.com) at 248-932-0228.

Please note: we continue to caution our clients to very carefully consider options before moving forward with any sampling related to assessing the potential impact of vapors.

For an overview of VI, see our March 2011 article in ESE “Vapour intrusion from soil and groundwater: A challenge for property owners”