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Jan. 12, 2022 by Johnathan Clark

States Should Act to Protect People and Our Environment from Unregulated Chemical Tanks

On the morning of January 9, 2014, residents of Charleston, West Virginia, noticed an unusual licorice-like odor in their tap water. Within hours, a federal state of emergency was declared as 300,000 West Virginia residents were advised to avoid contact with their tap water, forcing those affected to rely on bottled water until the water supply was restored over one week later.

Even after service was restored, traces of the chemical remained detectable in Charleston's water supply months after the spill. The economy of the region was brought to an abrupt halt and nearly 400 people sought emergency room care with symptoms of nausea, headaches, and vomiting.

The cause of the contamination was methylcyclohexane methanol (“MHCM”), a chemical used in industrial coal processing. Roughly 11,000 gallons of the substance had leaked from a severely corroded aboveground storage tank located a mile and a half north of the city’s municipal water intake on the banks of the Elk River, poisoning the water supply of nine counties.

In the aftermath of the spill, many West Virginia residents were left wondering how such a disaster could have struck with so little warning. State inspectors who arrived at the facility noted …

Dec. 8, 2021 by Darya Minovi, David Flores
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The Clean Water Act turns 50 next year.

This landmark law has led to some great environmental successes — waterways that were once basically open sewers have been returned to their former scenic beauty, capable of supporting aquatic life and providing drinking water to millions of Americans.

It has also made possible countless water protection careers in public service and private industry, as well as many types of pollution control technologies.

In at least one area, though, public protections related to the Clean Water Act have not advanced at all — despite Congress’ 1972 mandate to the contrary.

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of aboveground storage facilities containing hazardous chemicals — such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene — are not subject to state or federal rules designed to prevent and mitigate spills. These storage tanks sit along our industrialized waterfronts and at agricultural supply depots in our rural communities, threatening …

Sept. 21, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt, Natalia Cabrera
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This post was originally published by the Chesapeake Accountability Project. Reprinted with permission.

Maryland is home to more than 1,000 industrial facilities, including landfills, auto salvage yards, hazardous waste treatment, storage sites, and various types of manufacturing and processing plants. When it rains or snows, toxic pollution often runs off these facilities and enters nearby waterways and groundwater resources, negatively impacting aquatic life, nearby communities, and drinking water sources.

The problem — known as industrial stormwater pollution — is dire in Maryland. More industrial facilities are being built in the state, and precipitation intensity is increasing more quickly in the Chesapeake Bay region than elsewhere in the United States, threatening public and environmental health. Low-income people and communities of color are at heightened risk.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) requires industrial facilities not covered by individual permits to obtain a general permit for industrial stormwater. This …

Sept. 9, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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On August 29, Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana’s coastline with winds as high as 150 miles per hour and a storm surge of up to nine feet, flooding communities and destroying homes. The Category 4 storm displaced thousands of people and left 1 million without power — all as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals across the state.

Amid this chaos, Louisianans faced yet another hazard — the risk of exposure to toxic pollutants from explosions, flares, and accidental releases at disabled, damaged, or flooded industrial facilities.

A week after the storm made landfall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Response Center (NRC), which collects reports on oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment, had received more than 170 incident reports related to Ida. Many of these were in Louisiana, and 17 were air releases. Yet little is known about the effects as 13 …

Sept. 2, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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This op-ed was originally published in The Virginia Mercury.

The U.S. Senate faces a long to-do list when it reconvenes next month.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax,  wants to be sure an important but fairly obscure environmental health bill makes the list. 

It passed the House in July, thanks in part to Democratic members of our congressional delegation, and now awaits action in the upper chamber. “The Senate must take action,” Connolly told me by email.

The legislation would regulate and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of toxins linked to cancer, infertility and other serious health problems. One such problem is compromised immunity, which may reduce the effectiveness of COVID vaccines — just as the delta variant surges across the state.

This bill is urgently needed in Northern Virginia — a reported PFAS “hot spot.”

Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday …

July 7, 2021 by David Flores, Darya Minovi
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To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.

Update: Read Senior Policy Analyst David Flores and Policy Analyst Darya Minovi's July 8 testimony to EPA.

Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.

This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.

Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …

May 24, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Lead can cause neurological damage to young children and developing fetuses. The only really safe level is zero. Because poor children are the most likely to be exposed to this hazard, this is also a major environmental justice issue.

The Trump EPA took the position that it could set a hazard level higher than zero because of the cost of reaching a lower threshold. In a split decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed. The statutory issues are complicated, and a dissent raised some reasonable arguments. Ultimately, though, it's hard to believe Congress wanted EPA to misrepresent that a certain level of lead is safe for children when it really isn't.

The case involved several types of regulations, but the most important dealt with levels of lead dust. The main way children are exposed to lead is by …

May 13, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt
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This op-ed was originally published in the Baltimore Sun and was co-authored with Russ Stevenson of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance.

Dirty, polluted stormwater that runs off of industrial sites when it rains is a major cause of pollution to Maryland’s streams and rivers, and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is home to thousands of such industrial sites, all of which are required by law to obtain a stormwater discharge permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to prevent pollution and protect public and environmental health.

Unfortunately, many of these sites do not have a permit. For example, our research in one small area of Anne Arundel County found that only four out of 12 industrial sites possessed a current permit. Of the industrial sites that hold a permit, many are not in compliance with the permit requirements. Between 2017 and 2020, MDE conducted …

May 7, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used pesticides in America, although it has been banned in the European Union. Last week, the Ninth Circuit took the extraordinary step of ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) point-blank to ban or reduce traces of chlorpyrifos in food. A dissenter accused the majority of misreading the statute in question and abusing its discretion by limiting EPA's options so drastically and giving it only 60 days to act. Warning: The majority and dissenting opinions cover 116 pages, so I'll necessarily be leaving out a lot of details and nuances.

Who is right depends partly on how you read the statute and partly on whether EPA was acting in good faith. Judge Bybee thought that EPA had acted in good faith, while the majority clearly thought EPA had …

May 3, 2021 by David Flores
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As Maryland heads into the final stretch of a collective effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it has inexplicably passed over its best opportunity in years to modernize regulation of industrial stormwater — rain and snow that collects toxic pollution as it runs off factories, warehouses, scrap metal dealers, and other industrial sites.

Earlier this year, Maryland released a proposed revision of its general water pollution permit, which limits the type and amount of pollutants that facilities can discharge into public waters and sets monitoring and reporting requirements to protect public and environmental health.

Unfortunately, the state missed an important opportunity to bring stormwater regulation from the last century into the present — but it’s not too late to change course.

The Chesapeake Accountability Project (CAP) — a coalition of clean water advocacy groups including the Center for Progressive Reform — and two dozen partner organizations submitted a comment …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Jan. 12, 2022

States Should Act to Protect People and Our Environment from Unregulated Chemical Tanks

Dec. 8, 2021

Aboveground Chemical Storage Tanks Threaten Our Communities. It’s Time for EPA and States to Act.

Sept. 21, 2021

'The Lion Is Missing Its Teeth': Maryland Must Crack Down on Industrial Polluters

Sept. 9, 2021

Double Disaster in Ida's Wake: Will EPA Finally Ensure Industrial Facilities Prepare for Climate Change?

Sept. 2, 2021

Virginia Mercury Op-ed: Cleaning up ‘forever chemicals’ must be a federal priority

July 7, 2021

President Biden: Take Action Now to Protect the Public from 'Double Disasters'

May 24, 2021

Getting the Lead Out