Monday, September 19, 2011

EPA chief on verge of quitting after Obama rejected pollution proposal


The ozone almost did her in.
Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, was on the verge of quitting two weeks ago after President Obama rejected her centerpiece proposal for strict new air-pollution regulations, The Post has learned.
Jackson told intimates she had been convinced Obama would back her up despite aggressive lobbying from Capitol Hill Republicans and business interests.
But on Sept. 1, she learned her support in the West Wing had crumbled during two meetings -- one with Chief of Staff Bill Daley and another with the president.
In the face of a weak economy, bad poll numbers and bleak employment figures, Obama made it clear that “we just don’t need this fight right now,” according to an administration source.
A day later, the administration announced it was abandoning the proposal for the tougher emissions rules, which would have cut the amount of ozone that can be spewed into the air.
The White House said that it would revisit the issue in 2013, but that, for now, the changes to the Clean Air Act would have burdened businesses and local governments with costs to contain and monitor air pollution.
“She was very upset,” one administration official told The Post of Jackson’s reaction. “She didn’t know what she was going to do.”
Sources said Jackson spent two days considering whether to quit.
“Lisa was blindsided,” said senior Sierra Club official Jeff Tittel, a longtime confidant of Jackson. Obama “did it and then told her about it. She was pretty pissed off. She felt like she got hit with a hot poker between the eyes.”
But by the time she traveled with Obama to view hurricane damage on Sept. 4, Jackson had cooled and was telling intimates she was determined to stay.
Tittel said Jackson, 49, “has a lot of other stuff out there that she wants to get done that wouldn’t get done if she left. She’s not the kind of person who goes home and takes her marbles. She’s the kind who would stay and fight even if she is frustrated.”
The White House declined to comment.
Jackson spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said, “This administration has a tremendous record on the environment and a lot more work left to do.
“Administrator Jackson said she’s not going anywhere, and she isn’t.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

NYC says 'run tap' after tests find lead in water

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 4, 2010

NEW YORK -- New Yorkers are being told to run their taps for 30 seconds before drinking water, cooking with it or using it to make baby formula after tests showed elevated lead levels in some older buildings.

The city Department of Environmental Protection said the water supply for the nation's largest city, which comes from 19 upstate reservoirs, is virtually lead-free. It is tested half a million times a year at the reservoirs and at hundreds of sampling stations.

The recently detected contaminations are attributed to lead pipes and fixtures, which are typically found in buildings more than 40 years old.

The city monitors water in older buildings through regular testing as part of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In this year's tests, conducted from June to September, 14 percent - or 30 out of 222 tested buildings - showed lead levels higher than the accepted benchmark.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires local utilities to take action if 10 percent or more of tested buildings have lead levels of more than 15 parts per billion.

Too much lead can damage the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells.

"The elevations seen in the city's recent tests have been too small to pose clear health threats ... but the best level of lead exposure is zero, especially for children and pregnant women," city environmental Commissioner Cas Holloway said in a statement.

The city said drinking water is rarely the cause of lead poisoning but can contribute to a person's overall exposure.

The guidelines say a tap needs to be run if the water in that faucet has not been used for six hours or longer.

The last time the city's water triggered such a response was in 2005, the DEP said.

In the past decade, other cities have similarly exceeded the EPA benchmark, including Boston, Washington and Portland, Ore.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Read This Before You Volunteer to Clean Up the BP Oil Disaster

By Ariel Schwartz

Merle Savage has a wheezy, guttural smoker's cough. But the 71-year-old former Alaska resident and author of Silence in the Sound [1]never smoked a day in her life. She did, however, spend four months as a general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill recovery project in 1989. And she has a message for anyone working at the BP oil disaster sites: "You've got to use your common sense. Breathing crude oil is toxic."

Savage moved to Alaska in 1988--just one year before the Exxon Valdez oil spill ravaged Prince William Sound. After the spill, Savage decided to take action. She was assigned to clean oil-coated rocks on the beach, but says that Exxon never provided legitimate safety training. And since Exxon never told her that breathing crude oil was toxic, she didn't think twice about spraying hot water onto the oily rocks.

When the dizziness and vomiting set in, Savage assumed it was just the flu. "We were housed in close quarters, and I could see how the flu could go around repeatedly," she says. The "flu" continued as Savage moved into a position as general foreman on the spill's cleanup barges. But she didn't realize quite how much her health had deteriorated until leaving the cleanup operation.

"I was in the doctor's office continually," Savage says. "She always heard my stomach rolling and one day she said 'Have you eaten anything toxic or had any contaminated water?' I said no, never thinking it was the crude oil." Savage went on to develop a frightening list of symptoms: cirrhosis of the liver (she doesn't drink), rheumatoid arthritis, constant diarrhea, and respiratory problems.

When Savage was contacted by Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist specializing in oil pollution, she finally put the pieces together. According to Ott, respiratory and central nervous system problems are common among oil spill cleanup workers. In a recent blog post [2], she explains her concerns:

Oil spill cleanups are regulated as hazardous waste cleanups because oil is, in fact, hazardous to health. Breathing oil fumes is extremely harmful...Unfortunately, Exxon called the short-term symptoms, "the Valdez Crud," and dismissed 6,722 cases of respiratory claims from cleanup workers as "colds or flu" using an exemption under OSHA’s hazardous waste cleanup reporting requirements. I know of many who have been disabled by their illnesses – or have died.

The same symptoms--headache, nausea, coughing--are being reported [3] by workers cleaning up the BP oil disaster. Savage, now retired and living in Las Vegas, hopes today's oil spill workers know what's really going on with their health. "Had I known the truth, I wouldn't have gone to clean up the spill," she says. "I am living and breathing now, but it's not by the grace of Exxon."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gulf Oil Leaks Could Gush for Years "We don't have any idea how to stop this," expert says.

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published May 13, 2010

If efforts fail to cap the leaking Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico (map), oil could gush for years—poisoning coastal habitats for decades, experts say.

(See satellite pictures of the Gulf oil spill's evolution.)

Last week the joint federal-industry task force charged with managing the spill tried unsuccessfully to lower a 93-ton containment dome (pictures) over one of three ruptures in the rig's downed pipe.

Crystals of methane hydrates in the freezing depths clogged an opening on the box, preventing it from funneling the spouting oil up to a waiting ship.

Watch video of the failed attempt to cap the leaking pipe.

Yesterday a smaller dome was laid on the seafloor near the faulty well, and officials will attempt to install the structure later this week.

But such recovery operations have never been done before in the extreme deep-sea environment around the wellhead, noted Matthew Simmons, retired chair of the energy-industry investment banking firm Simmons & Company International.

For instance, at the depth of the gushing wellhead—5,000 feet (about 1,500 meters)—containment technologies have to withstand extremely high pressures.

Also, slant drilling—a technique used to relieve pressure near the leak—is difficult at these depths, because the relief well has to tap into the original pipe, a tiny target at about 7 inches (18 centimeters) wide, Simmons noted.

"We don't have any idea how to stop this," Simmons said of the Gulf leak. Some of the proposed strategies—such as temporarily plugging the leaking pipe with a jet of golf balls and other material—are a "joke," he added.

"We really are in unprecedented waters."

Gulf Oil Reservoir Bleeding Dry

If the oil can't be stopped, the underground reservoir may continue bleeding until it's dry, Simmons suggested.

The most recent estimates are that the leaking wellhead has been spewing 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons, or 795,000 liters) of oil a day.

And the oil is still flowing robustly, which suggests that the reserve "would take years to deplete," said David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

"You're talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it."

At that rate, it's possible the Gulf oil spill's damage to the environment will have lingering effects akin to those of the largest oil spill in history, which happened in Saudi Arabia in 1991, said Miles Hayes, co-founder of the science-and-technology consulting firm Research Planning, Inc., based in South Carolina.

During the Gulf War, the Iraqi military intentionally spilled up to 336 million gallons (about 1.3 billion liters) of oil into the Persian Gulf (map) to slow U.S. troop advances, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hayes was part of a team that later studied the environmental impacts of the spill, which impacted about 500 miles (800 kilometers) of Saudi Arabian coastline.

The scientists discovered a "tremendous" amount of oiled sediment remained on the Saudi coast 12 years after the spill—about 3 million cubic feet (856,000 cubic meters). (See "Exxon Valdez Anniversary: 20 Years Later, Oil Remains.")

Oil Spills Create Toxic Marshes

Perhaps most sobering for the marsh-covered U.S. Gulf Coast, the 2003 report found that the Saudi oil spill was most toxic to the region's marshes and mud flats.

Up to 89 percent of the Saudi marshes and 71 percent of the mud flats had not bounced back after 12 years, the team discovered. (See pictures of freshwater plants and animals.)

"It was amazing to stand there and look across what used to be a salt marsh and it was all dead—not even a live crab," Hayes said.

Saudi and U.S. Gulf Coast marshes aren't exactly the same—Saudi marshes sit in saltier waters, and the Middle Eastern climate is more arid, for example. "But to some extent they serve the same ecological function, which is extremely important," he said.

As the nurseries for much of the sea life in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal marshes are vital to the ecosystem and the U.S. seafood industry.

It's also much harder to remove oil from coastal marshes, since some management techniques—such as controlled burns—are more challenging in those environments, said Texas Tech University ecotoxicologist Ron Kendall.

"Once it gets in there, we're not getting it out," he said. (See pictures of ten animals threatened by the Gulf oil spill.)

Gulf Coast Should "Plan for the Worst"

Depth isn't the only factor that can stymie attempts to plug an oil leak.

The 1979 Ixtoc oil spill, also in the Gulf of Mexico, took nine months to cap. During that time the well spewed 140 million gallons (530 million liters) of oil—and the Ixtoc well was only about 160 feet (49 meters) deep, noted retired energy investment banker Simmons.

Efforts to contain the Ixtoc leak were complicated by poor visibility in the water and debris from the wrecked rig on the seafloor.

Also, the high pressure of oil in the well ruptured valves in the blowout preventer, a device designed to automatically cap an out-of-control-well. Recovery workers had to drill relief wells nearby before divers could cap the leak.

(See "Rig Explosion Shows Risks in Key Oil Frontier.")

In general, Simmons added, officials scrambling to cap the Deepwater Horizon well should be working just as hard to protect the shorelines in what could become a protracted event.

"We have to hope for the best," he said, "but plan for the worst."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Inspector Says He Faked Data in New York Building Tests


A safety inspector licensed to make critical assessments of asbestos and lead risks in buildings and at construction sites across the city made a stunning admission in federal court: Despite filing hundreds of reports saying his tests had found no danger, he had not performed a single one of the tests.

The inspector, Saverio F. Todaro, 68, submitted clean asbestos or lead test results for well over 200 buildings and apartments, including some that were demolished or renovated to make way for publicly financed projects under the Bloomberg administration’s affordable-housing program, according to people briefed on the matter and court papers.

The number of potential victims of Mr. Todaro’s fraud, which spanned at least a decade, loomed so large that the Manhattan United States attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, created a separate Web page to comply with a law requiring it to notify victims.

His admissions late last month have raised troubling questions about whether such conduct might be more widespread, and it has led to an expanding inquiry focused on some aspects of the work of asbestos and lead inspectors in the city.

“Todaro’s guilty plea is not the end of the story,” said the Manhattan United States attorney, Preet Bharara. “This investigation is very much ongoing.”

The investigation, in part, seeks to determine whether he conspired with others — taking bribes to fashion crude forgeries and mask his failure to conduct any tests — or whether he acted alone for other reasons, officials said.

The breadth of his crimes, the simplicity of the schemes and the apparent ease with which he got away with them over the years also suggest that the city’s oversight is strained, at best.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said one official briefed on the matter and on the issues facing city and federal regulators, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing. “We just don’t know how big the iceberg is.”

Because Mr. Todaro never did the tests in question, and because in more than a dozen instances the buildings involved have been torn down and replaced with new ones, or gutted and renovated, it is impossible in some cases to determine if proper tests would have revealed potentially dangerous levels of lead or asbestos.

At the same time, federal and city officials have not made public the precise number and location of the buildings involved, or disclosed specifics of what they think took place in each instance. While the city’s health department has reviewed 17 cases in which Mr. Todaro performed lead tests, it remains unclear whether city officials plan to conduct any other reviews or retesting.

But the stakes are unquestionably high.

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the long-term effects of lead exposure in children and adults can be severe. Inhaling asbestos can cause lung disease and cancer.

Several city agencies sought to play down the dangers.

City regulators have found no evidence that either the fraud or risks are widespread, said Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

“We can always look for new ways to improve our process,” he said. “D.E.P. is going to start increasing audits, which is the right step to ensure inspections are being completed properly.”

But, in addition to the continuing investigation that grew out of the charges against Mr. Todaro, there are now six other unrelated federal cases under way exploring allegations of similar practices in the New York City area. Some 1,500 people hold city or federal certifications to test for lead or asbestos in the area.

One line of inquiry for investigators in the case involving Mr. Todaro is whether any building owners, management firms or contractors for whom he or other inspectors worked paid bribes for the bogus inspection reports. Officials say substantial sums of money could have been saved by allowing the demolition of buildings without performing expensive asbestos abatement.

Indeed, several current and former law enforcement officials and industry experts underscored that the city’s construction industry, and in particular the demolition and asbestos abatement sectors, have a rich history of corruption.

“It sounds like a disaster,” said Daniel J. Castleman, the former chief assistant in the office of the previous Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, where he supervised corruption cases focusing on the demolition and asbestos abatement industries. “Obviously there are always going to be people who will take a short cut in order to make money, whether it’s in the inspection of lead or asbestos or concrete or steel.”

The case bears some similarities to one brought by the district attorney last year, which exposed widespread fraud in the concrete testing industry and led to criminal convictions and cost the city and private developers millions of dollars for retesting.

The precise targets of the growing investigation are unclear, and several people briefed on the matter said it may be some time before determinations are made as to whether others will be charged.

“As you pull one thread, the sweater unravels, and right now we are in that mode,” William V. Lometti, who heads the New York office of the E.P.A.’s Criminal Investigation Division, said of the case.

The inquiry is being handled by agents under Mr. Lometti’s supervision and the City Department of Investigation, with assistance from the federal Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General; it is being prosecuted by Anne C. Ryan, a veteran assistant United States attorney with a background in environmental crimes who works in the Complex Frauds Unit in Mr. Bharara’s office.

Mr. Todaro, who is free on bail, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, making false statements and violating the Toxic Substances Control Act. Under his plea agreement, he could face a sentence of between 51 and 63 months.

Mr. Todaro’s lawyer, Steven M. Statsinger, declined to comment.

His client first came under scrutiny in 2008. That year, an employee at the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene noticed two lab reports detailing the results of lead dust swipe tests Mr. Todaro claimed to have performed in a Queens apartment in 2006 and 2007 looked almost identical, officials said.

The tests were done after the agency ordered remediation there because a young Queens boy showed high levels of lead in his blood two years in a row.

The case was referred to the City Department of Investigation, and when officials there subpoenaed and began reviewing Mr. Todaro’s business records, it quickly became clear that many had been doctored or altered.

And while the inquiry would not have begun without their work and the actions of the health department employee, the case nonetheless raises questions about the city’s oversight of lead and asbestos testing.

In addition to the health department, which orders and over sees testing when children suffer lead poisoning, those responsibilities are divided among a somewhat fractured mosaic of city agencies.

They are: the Department of Environmental Protection, which certifies asbestos investigators; the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which enforces the city’s housing maintenance code and oversees its affordable housing programs; and the Department of Buildings, to which documentation regarding some asbestos work is filed.

There are gaps in communication among the agencies. The city’s environmental agency suspended Mr. Todaro’s license in 2004 for improper building surveys and poor recordkeeping, it failed to notify the other city agencies for which he did asbestos-related work, as well as state and federal regulators — lapses that allowed him to evade additional scrutiny.

A spokesman said that the agency would make such notifications in the future.

The environmental agency focuses its force of 15 inspectors on the roughly 5,000 projects where asbestos abatement is being done every year. But on average, it audits only a tiny fraction of the roughly 28,400 projects that inspectors like Mr. Todaro certify each year as safe.

Next year, the agency said, it expects to perform many more such reviews and computerize the recordkeeping system for such reviews.

The agency — which says that there are roughly 550 asbestos investigators certified to work in any given year — has suspended nine inspectors and revoked the licenses of seven in the last 10 years, a spokesman said.

And only one of the four agencies — the health department — can use its computer system to zero in on individual inspectors, and determine the location of the buildings where they performed tests, officials said.

The others are dependent on whatever records the inspectors themselves maintain.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

For Renovation Contractor Training Contact:

New York Environmental Training Institute
228 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Daren Bryant
Training Manager
(212) 922-0077 office
(212) 922-0630 fax

April 2010 New Lead Paint Requirements for Renovation Contractors

Common renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips by disturbing lead-based paint, which can be harmful to adults and children.

To protect against this risk, on April 22, 2008, EPA issued a rule requiring the use of lead-safe practices and other actions aimed at preventing lead poisoning. Under the rule, beginning in April 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.

Until that time, EPA recommends that anyone performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes, child care facilities and schools follow lead-safe work practices.

All contractors should follow these three simple procedures:

Contain the work area.
Minimize dust.
Clean up thoroughly.

Beginning in December 2008, the rule will require that contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint provide to owners and occupants of child care facilities and to parents and guardians of children under age six that attend child care facilities built prior to 1978 the lead hazard information pamphlet Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools.

The rule will affect paid renovators who work in pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities, including:

Renovation contractors
Maintenance workers in multi-family housing
Painters and other specialty trades.

Under the rule, child-occupied facilities are defined as residential, public or commercial buildings where children under age six are present on a regular basis. The requirements apply to renovation, repair or painting activities. The rule does not apply to minor maintenance or repair activities where less than six square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed in a room or where less then 20 square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed on the exterior. Window replacement is not minor maintenance or repair.