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Regulatory Roundup

Boeing Agrees to Build Storm Water Treatment System To Reduce PCB Discharges

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement with The Boeing Company to construct a new storm water treatment system at North Boeing Field in Seattle. The treatment system will greatly reduce the amount of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are an on-going source of pollution to the Duwamish River.

The North Boeing Field storm drain system carries storm water to the Duwamish River through more than seven miles of catch basins, drains, inlets, and oil-water separators. Studies by the Washington State Department of Ecology, the City of Seattle, and Boeing showed the North Boeing Field storm drain system is the biggest source of PCBs to the river sediments in Slip 4, one of the most highly contaminated sites on the lower Duwamish waterway.

According to Lori Cohen, Associate Director of EPA’s Superfund cleanup office in Seattle, Boeing’s storm water treatment work will significantly reduce PCBs discharge to the Duwamish River and better protect Puget Sound.

“Boeing’s investment in storm water treatment will pay dividends in cleaning up the lower Duwamish River and Puget Sound,” Cohen said in a press release. “By reducing the volume of PCBs released to the river from North Boeing Field, we’re taking a major step forward in controlling one of the biggest PCBs pollution sources on the Duwamish and allowing us to move forward with our cleanup work.”

With the installation of this storm water treatment system, cleanup of Slip 4, one of several hot spot cleanups on the waterway, will proceed in 2011. Several acres of contaminated sediments in Slip 4 will be cleaned up under an EPA settlement agreement with the City of Seattle and King County.

PCBs are toxic pollutants that persist in the environment for a long time and can build up in fish and shellfish. PCBs are found at unsafe levels in the sediments and fish of the Lower Duwamish River. Concerns about PCB levels in fish prompted the state to issue a health advisory warning people not to eat any crab, shellfish, or fish (except salmon) from the Lower Duwamish River.

Earlier this summer, Boeing agreed to design an initial storm water treatment system with EPA oversight during the negotiation of today’s agreement. The initial system began operating last week treating storm water from the most highly contaminated areas of North Boeing Field. The initial system will be managed under today’s agreement, and over the course of the next year, a long-term system will be put in place at the site. The treatment system is part of a broader effort to locate and contain or treat contamination in the North Boeing Field drainage area that flows into the storm water outfall at Slip 4.

Slip 4 is part of the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site, which was added to EPA’s National Priorities List in 2001. The contaminants in the river sediments include PCBs, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mercury and other metals, and phthalates. Sediments (mud and sand on the river bottom) in and along the lower river contain a wide range of contaminants from years of industrial activity and from stormwater pollution.

EPA and Washington’s Department of Ecology jointly oversee the Lower Duwamish Waterway cleanup. EPA is the lead agency for the investigation and cleanup of contaminated sediments throughout the lower river. As the lead agency for controlling the sources of pollution to the lower river, the Department of Ecology works with the City of Seattle and King County to investigate and control sources throughout the Duwamish drainage basin.


ExxonMobil Agrees to Remediate Acid Waste

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and ExxonMobil agreed to settle a case involving over one billion gallons of illegally stored hazardous waste at the company’s Agrifos Fertilizer site in Pasadena, Texas, EPA announced yesterday.

 ExxonMobil is the prior owne of the site and will retained responsibility for the site’s massive waste impoundments when it sold the site to Agrifos Fertilizer in 1998. ExxonMobil was subject to Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) violations due to the illegal commingling of hazardous waste with the acidic process wastewater stored in the impoundments, EPA said.

The company will spend more than $150 million to close the impoundments and dispose of the hazardous waste at the site. As part of the settlement Exxon will be responsible for post-closure care at the site, including groundwater monitoring, from the impoundments for the next 50 years.

Agrifos Fertilizer, the property owner, purchased the 509 acre plot from ExxonMobil in 1998. The Agrifos site includes a mineral processing facility that extracts phosphorus from mineral ores to produce phosphoric acid. Exxon Mobil will conduct the majority of the clean-up work at the site and Agrifos is responsible for the remaining activities.

Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, based on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. If not properly managed, these facilities pose a high risk to human health and the environment. Since 2003, EPA has been investigating a total of 20 phosphoric acid facilities in seven states.

In a national enforcement effort, EPA has focused on compliance in the phosphoric acid industry because of the high risk of releases of acidic wastewaters at these facilities, which can cause groundwater contamination and kill fish. A 2007 incident at the Agrifos phosphoric acid facility in Houston released 50 million gallons of acidic hazardous wastewater into the Houston Ship Channel.

Marathon Oil Agrees to Cleanup Study and Remediation at Former Nebraska Gas Plant

Marathon Oil Company, of Houston, Texas, has reached an agreement yesterday with EPA Region 7 to conduct a cleanup study and implement a remedy for groundwater contamination at its former West Sidney Gas Plant in Sidney, Neb.

Under an administrative consent order, filed in Kansas City, Kan., Marathon will first conduct a study of alternative remedies for the groundwater contamination, and then recommend one or more preferred remedies for addressing the contamination. EPA would then review the proposed remedy or remedies, and if the Agency approves, Marathon would proceed to develop a plan to implement the work.

Marathon will fund all costs associated with the study, the proposed remedy and the subsequent environmental remediation work, according to the order, which was issued under the authority of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Marathon owns the property located southwest of Sidney, where beginning in 1954 it operated the West Sidney Gas Plant, a facility that processed natural gas. The plant produced a variety of waste streams, including used absorption oil, wet glycol, produced water and an unidentified hydrocarbon liquid. Those waste streams were recovered or recycled at the facility, or were disposed into an onsite injection well, or from approximately 1964 to 1982, were disposed into three unlined surface impoundments at the site.

In 2003, EPA ordered Marathon to perform groundwater sampling, analysis and monitoring to determine the nature and extent of hazardous releases from the site. Sampling and monitoring have shown groundwater at the site to be contaminated with benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and other light non-aqueous phase liquids (LNAPLs), which are organic substances that are relatively insoluble in water. Since 2003, the dissolved phase contamination of benzene, ethylbenzene and xylene has steadily decreased to below drinking water standards, although the chemicals are still present.

Groundwater contamination from the former West Sidney Gas Plant has been identified in the Brule formation, an aquifer that serves as a source of irrigation water, livestock water and potable drinking water for farmers, ranchers and other rural users in the Lodgepole Creek drainage basin west of Sidney. The Brule formation also provides a portion of the municipal water supply for the City of Sidney, although municipal wells are not affected by the contamination.

USDA, EPA Officials Called to Testify on Biotech Regulations

Officials from the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency will testify at a House hearing today on the problem of weeds that are resistant to Roundup herbicide, a blog in the Des Moines Register reports. An executive with Monsanto Co., the company that developed Roundup and the technology that makes crops immune to the herbicide, also is on the witness list, along with representatives of the pesticide industry and an anti-biotech group.

The hearing is being held by a long-time biotech critic, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who is chairman of a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

At an earlier hearing on the subject in July, Kucinich charged that the USDA as been too quick to approve new varieties of herbicide-tolerant crops and other biotech products. A weed scientist at Penn State University told the House panel that the government should restrict the use of herbicide-resistant weeds and impose a tax on biotech seeds to fund research and education programs. Michael Owen, an Iowa State University weed scientist, disagreed with the idea of a seed tax but said farmers have to quit relying so heavily on Roundup to control weeds.

A study released this spring by the National Academy of Sciences warned that farmers’ overuse of Roundup is producing weeds that are immune to the chemical and threatening to erase the environmental benefits of herbicide-tolerant crops. The use of the crops has allowed farmers to reduce their tillage, which cuts down on erosion and protects the water quality in neighboring streams and ponds. However, Roundup-resistant weeds are becoming a major problem in farmers’ fields, most significantly in the Southeast but increasingly in the Midwest as well, the study said.

 Some 93 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn planted nationwide this year were of herbicide-tolerant varieties.

PCE Found in Boulder Groundwater at 460 Times State Limit

Toxic chemicals in the groundwater near the site of a former Boulder, Co. dry-cleaner are more widespread than city officials have been made aware of, with the level of one contaminant recently measuring 460 times the limit set by the state health department, the Daily Camera reports.

The city of Boulder is beginning this week to test groundwater on city-owned property in the area of 13th Street and Canyon Boulevard, after being alerted in mid-2009 that nearby groundwater contained naphthalene and benzene.

Experts believe the chemicals, which are common but potentially dangerous industrial agents, came from a coal gasification plant that operated in the area during the early 1900s. To find out for sure where the toxins came from, and how widespread they are, the city and Xcel Energy have commissioned a joint $30,000 study.

But a report provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows the area where the chemicals were first detected also contains high levels of perchloroethylene, or PCE, a contamination associated with spills from dry-cleaners.

But a report provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows the area where the chemicals were first detected also contains high levels of perchloroethylene, or PCE, a contamination associated with spills from dry-cleaners.

The chemical was first detected at the site, after Art Cleaners moved its dry-cleaning operation from the building. The company’s landlord required the business to conduct an environmental assessment, which was performed by Wheat Ridge-based Terracon Consultants.

The consultant reported to state health officials that it found high concentrations of PCE — a typical dry-cleaning chemical that can cause liver and kidney damage and is a suspected cancer-causing agent — and began monitoring a series of test wells that were dug in the area to see how far the contamination spanned.

Dennie “Chip” Wise, owner of the property, said he’s been working closely with state officials ever since that report and that he has spent a “significant” amount of money to clean the spill.

But records show the levels of PCE near the building remain exceedingly high, despite six years of remediation work that has included extracting chemical vapors from the ground and injecting 165 gallons of CAP18, a compound based on vegetable oil that’s designed to stimulate the natural decay of PCE.

A sample taken from groundwater at the site in June showed PCE levels as high as 2.3 milligrams per liter. That’s 460 times the state limit of .005 milligrams per liter.

At the same time, the level of naphthalene measured up to 10 times above the state limit, while the level of benzene was about 1.8 times the limit. Other chemicals, mostly byproducts of the natural decay of PCE, were also detected at levels exceeding state standards.

Rob Beierle, an environmental protection specialist with the state health department, is the case manager for the property. He said the plume of PCE has flowed with groundwater toward the southeast, stopping near the entrance to Boulder High School.

Walter Avramenko, who leads the state’s Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Unit, said removing the PCE from the downtown location would take a lot of time and money.

“The unfortunate thing is that, with this particular chemical, it is very difficult to remediate, especially once it’s gotten into the ground,” Avramenko said.

He said the owner of the building has always cooperated with the cleanup, so the property owner hasn’t been fined.

Brian Hansen, owner of Art Cleaners since 1995, said the spill probably happened over decades. The company has been in Boulder since 1921 and operated out of the 15th Street location since the 1950s, he told the Daily Camera.

“The technology way back when, it wasn’t a problem in the ’50s,” he said. “There was no measurement, no standard.”

The company has since moved to an environmentally friendly, silicon-based cleaner.

 EPA Fines Two Puget Sound Developers

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined two Puget Sound developers a total of $49,000 for storm water run-off violations at their contraction sites, the agency announced on Monday, the Kitsap Sun reports.

The EPA says Garco Construction of Spokane will pay $34,000 to settle several alleged Clean Water Act violations at its construction site at a fuel storage facility at the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island.

The agency says Robert West of Scottsdale, Ariz. will pay $15,000 to settle alleged violations at its Fox Island construction site in June 2010.

Garco vice president Hollis Barnett said in statement Monday that the company never allowed polluted run-off to leave the project site. He says the company denied the allegations and settled to avoid prolonged litigation with the EPA.

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