May 2007, Vol. 19, No.5

Briefs

WEF and Methanol Institute Launch Safety Program

The Water Environment Federation (WEF®; Alexandria, Va.) and the Methanol Institute (MI; Arlington, Va.) have announced they will work together to promote methanol safety at wastewater treatment facilities.

This agreement follows the release of a March report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which, after investigating a fatal methanol tank explosion at the Bethune Point wastewater treatment plant (Daytona Beach, Fla.), made several recommendations to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

On Jan. 11, 2006, three workers at Bethune Point were removing a hurricane-damaged steel roof that covered two chemical storage tanks — one empty and the other containing 11,355 L (3000 gal) of methanol. Two workers were in a manlift basket using an acetylene torch to cut the roof into sections when sparks from the torch ignited methanol vapors coming from the tank, leading to an explosion that killed two workers and critically injured a third.

"Wastewater treatment plant operators use hazardous chemicals like chlorine every day, but many are unfamiliar with methanol,” said MI President and Chief Executive Officer John Lynn. “Working cooperatively, our two organizations will impart basic facts about the physical properties of methanol, and how to properly store and handle this flammable and hazardous chemical. Tragic accidents like the one in Bethune Point are preventable, and knowledge is the key.”

In early March, WEF and MI launched an aggressive safety awareness campaign in response to the CSB recommendations. On March 5, an MI official addressed 300 wastewater professionals attending a WEF specialty conference on nutrient removal to discuss the CSB findings and issued a call to action for industry leaders. The two organizations are also planning a Webcast, articles in operator magazines, a presentation in WEF’s Safety and Occupational Health Committee’s session at WEFTEC®.07 in San Diego in October, and work with the committee on technical reference guidance materials.

“The hazards of methanol weren’t even on the radar screen until a few years ago, but with the fatalities in Florida, we want to do everything we can to prevent something even close to the accident in Bethune Point from happening again,” said Al Calliers, chair of WEF’s Safety and Occupational Health Committee.

To access the CSB report, see www.chemsafety.gov.

U.S., Japan Consider New Environmental Strategies

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Japanese Ministry of Environment (MOE) held a March workshop in Washington, D.C., to expand their efforts on minimizing climate change and encouraging sustainable practices in developing countries.

"Climate change knows no borders,” said Bill Wehrum, EPA acting assistant administrator for Air and Radiation. “The U.S. and Japan play vital roles in global economic progress as well as global environmental protection. In line with the Bush administration’s commitment to engage in extensive international efforts on climate change, America is working with Japan and other international partners to exchange innovative strategies for simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.”

The workshop was the third EPA–MOE meeting focused on cobenefits in the transportation, agriculture, energy, and waste sectors in developing countries. Cobenefits are the additional results of policies that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, including energy efficiency and security, improved public health, and enhanced quality of life, according to an EPA news release. EPA is working with MOE to explore how a cobenefits approach can be used to support climate-friendly policy-making in developing countries.

At the workshop, participants explored outcomes of capacity-building programs, lessons learned from climate-related programs and efforts, new directions for research and analysis, opportunities to promote new cobenefits, and priorities for future action on cobenefits. EPA and MOE intend to formalize a plan for future collaboration through a statement of intent, according to EPA.

For information on the Asia–Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, see www.asiapacificpartnership.org.

    

New Framework for Assessing Metals Risks

To assess the hazards and risks from metals exposure more effectively, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a new document that it says lays out the latest and best science available on metals risk assessment. In March, EPA released the final Framework for Metals Risk Assessment, which outlines key principles about metals that will be considered in conducting human health and ecological risk assessments.

In developing the framework, EPA consulted with the scientific community, the EPA Science Advisory Board, and stakeholders in an open process. External scientific experts and the public gave important feedback on the document, according to EPA. Topics addressed in the framework include principles for conducting metals risk assessments; environmental chemistry and fate and transport; and assessments related to human health, aquatic life, and land issues. The framework is not a mandate on exactly how a particular program must conduct its assessments, EPA notes, but a set of key principles that will be useful in preparing such assessments.

See the Framework for Metals Risk Assessment at www.epa.gov/osa/metalsframework.

New U.S. EPA Guidance for Underground Injection Control Programs

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released final guidance to assist state and EPA regional Underground Injection Control (UIC) programs in processing permit applications for pilot- and other small-scale carbon dioxide geologic sequestration projects.

“We are taking the proactive step of releasing early guidance to help ensure that underground injection of CO2 [carbon dioxide] is done in an environmentally responsible manner to protect underground sources of drinking water and public health,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for Water. “The data we collect from pilot projects will help us as we work to develop a long-term management framework for commercial-scale geologic sequestration.”

The guidance will assist UIC program directors and permit writers as they evaluate applications for the appropriateness of injection sites, the area of review, well construction, operation, monitoring, and site closure in order to protect underground sources of drinking water and public health, EPA states.

See the guidance and read more about geologic sequestration at www.epa.gov/safewater/uic/wells_sequestration.html.

Clean Water Mercury Listing Guidance Issued

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing information regarding a voluntary approach for listing waters impaired by mercury mainly from atmospheric sources under Clean Water Act Sec. 303(d), according to an agency news release.

States that have in place a comprehensive mercury reduction program may put their waters impaired by mercury from air sources in a subcategory “5m” of their Sec. 303(d) lists and defer development of total maximum daily loads, EPA states.

“We believe that the 5m approach will help foster state mercury reduction programs that, together with our efforts at the national and international levels, will ultimately restore mercury-impaired waters,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for Water.

The approach uses Clean Water Act tools to encourage state and regional mercury reduction programs and recognizes early actions by states to address their mercury sources and achieve environmental results sooner.

Read more at www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl/mercury5m.

National Water Program Creates Climate Change Work Group

In an effort to improve the understanding of climate change effects on water resources, the National Water Program is establishing a Water Program Climate Change Workgroup, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) news release. The work group is composed of representatives from the agency’s water program offices, EPA regional water offices, and representatives of the Office of Air and Radiation and the Office of Research and Development.

As part of this effort, according to the release, the work group will take steps to develop a strategy later this year identifying appropriate, effective, and practical actions EPA water program managers can take to adapt program implementation to climate change, as well as to support mitigation and research efforts. A copy of the memo is available at www.epa.gov/water.

Membranes Market Expected To Grow

Consumer and industrial demands for clean water will drive the market for cross-flow membrane systems and replacement membranes to more than $11 billion in 2011, up from $8.3 billion in 2007, according to a report by market research company The McIlvaine Co. (Northfield, Ill.).

The report estimates that reverse osmosis will account for 45% of the market, while ultrafiltration and nanofiltration will constitute 20%, and microfiltration will account for 30%. With the need for purified drinking water rapidly expanding, microfiltration sales also have grown, according to the report.
The report suggests that membrane system sales for desalination will rise to more than $2.5 billion in 2011.

Future growth of the membranes in this sector will be influenced by technological development, the report notes. While distillation approaches are becoming more expensive due to the rising cost of energy, membrane processes are becoming less expensive due to membrane and system developments.

U.S. EPA’s Proposed FY 2008 Budget Focuses on ‘Green’ Strategies

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen L. Johnson released the agency’s proposed $7.2 billion fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget in February. The new budget emphasizes using more citizen-partners as EPA addresses “green” issues and solutions, an EPA news release says.

“As our nation shifts to a green culture, Americans are realizing that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility,” Johnson said. “Today, EPA has 300 million citizen-partners in our efforts to accelerate the pace of environmental protection. President [George W.] Bush’s budget request will fund EPA’s role as our country enters this next phase of environmental progress.”

The proposed 2008 spending plan includes $549.5 million for enforcement operations, the largest amount ever dedicated to that agency responsibility and $9.1 million more than the FY 2007 amount.

This budget, according to the news release, also features a major effort to restore, improve, and protect four of the nation’s most important water assets. The Chesapeake Bay would receive an additional $2 million, for a total of $28.8 million, to build on the continuing efforts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; increase the pace of restoration; and implement the most cost-effective nutrient and sediment controls and key habitat restoration strategies. The Puget Sound would receive $1 million to focus on the highest-priority environmental challenges, such as improving water quality, lifting shellfish harvest restrictions, and cleaning up contaminated sediments.

The Gulf of Mexico would receive $4.5 million to assist the gulf states and other stakeholders in developing a framework for restoring and protecting the gulf. EPA is working with 12 other federal agencies and five states in the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to implement the 2004 U.S. Ocean Action Plan, the news release says. The Great Lakes would receive $56.8 million to continue working with states and local communities to reduce PCB concentrations by 25% in predatory fish and keep monitored beaches open 95% of the time during the summer season.

The budget also requests an additional $687.5 million for clean water grants and $842.2 million for drinking water grants.

With a focus on promoting scientific research, the president’s budget includes $10.2 million for nanotechnology research — an increase of $1.6 million — to identify potential uses of and to study nanoscale materials that are subject to Toxic Substances Control Act requirements. Clean-air-related research would receive $123.8 million.

In addition, the budget requests a total of $1.245 billion for Superfund (including a $3.2 million increase over the FY 2007 request for the Superfund remedial program) and $162.2 million for the Brownfields program.

To read more about the budget, see www.epa.gov/ocfo/budget/index.htm.

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Passes Water Quality Bills

Bills to control maritime pollution and finance wastewater treatment were among 13 bills marked up and favorably reported in February by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, according to a committee press release.

The committee cleared three clean water infrastructure bills for consideration by the full House, including the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007, H.R. 720, which would authorize $20 billion to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for the next 5 years. A second bill, the Water Quality Investment Act of 2007, H.R. 569, would extend the authorization of funding for federal grants to control combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows. The committee also cleared H.R. 700, a bill to reauthorize appropriations for the Alternative Water Sources Act of 2000, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program that funds water supply projects in areas of critical need.

“Increased funding of water infrastructure projects is essential to the economic and environmental health of the nation,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar (D–Minn.), committee chairman. “Our population is growing at an increased pace, putting more pressure on already overburdened systems. In addition, much of the wastewater infrastructure in this country is rapidly approaching or has already exceeded its projected useful life.”

The committee reported the Maritime Pollution Prevention Act of 2007, H.R. 802, which would provide the U.S. Coast Guard and EPA the authority to bring U.S. standards into line with international maritime pollution standards, according to the press release.