Land application of biosolids may not be the image that comes to mind when you think of environmental enforcement, but biosolids surely were on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mind as 2019 came to a close.  That, combined with more traditional enforcement including hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and penalties, provides us with an enforcement wrap for 2019.

Environmental Enforcement – Biosolids Land Application

Using biosolids (aka “sludge”) from publicly-owned treatment works has long been viewed as an effective recycling method that can, when properly done, provide needed nutrients and amendments to farm fields. However, these biosolids can also pose a potential environmental risk.

Dragun Corporation has expertise in ag-environmental issues

The EPA Headquarters announced that there were nine different settlements related to land application of biosolids.

How to dispose or reuse biosolids is an ongoing concern, as biosolids are a byproduct of the treatment of sewage and are generated continuously.  In fact, according to the EPA, 2 million tons of biosolids were land applied and another 664,000 tons were incinerated in 2018.

While we discussed the concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in biosolids in previous blogs (and this is still a concern), the recent biosolids enforcement focused on more common concerns:  metals and pathogens.

Nine Different Enforcement Actions for Biosolids Violations

According to the December 18, 2019, News Release from the EPA Headquarters, there were nine different settlements related to land application.

  • Troy Alabama: $50,000 for lead exceedance.
  • Montgomery, Alabama: $32,000 for nickel exceedance.
  • Veris Environmental in Limon, Colorado: $11,000 for molybdenum exceedance.
  • Henry County, Georgia: $25,000 for fecal coliform exceedance and application above agronomic rates.
  • Jefferson, Iowa: $13,900 for arsenic exceedance and failure to monitor and report.
  • Salina, Kansas: $15,188 for molybdenum exceedance (settlement includes a $60,000 Supplemental Environmental Project).
  • Wentzville, Missouri: $7,700 for application above agronomic rates.
  • Cozad, Nebraska: $6,500 for molybdenum exceedance.
  • Newport, Tennessee: $8,300 for molybdenum exceedance.

According to the EPA, facilities that produce, manage, or dispose biosolids that are required to submit an annual biosolids report must do so electronically beginning in 2017.  Those reports are due February 19th each year.

Below are several environmental enforcement actions that might be considered more “traditional.”

Hazardous Waste Permit Violations

BP Exploration was fined for violations of their hazardous waste permit.  Specifically, the EPA alleges that BP Exploration failed to maintain adequate insurance for bodily injury and/or property damage to third parties.  The enforcement was focused on the handling of hazardous waste on Alaska’s North Slope.  Penalty:  $125,000

RCRA Violations

Dura Coat Products, International Aerospace Coatings, and Goodwest Rubber Linings were each fined for violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  There were several violations, including failure to make accurate hazardous waste determinations, improperly sealed waste containers, storage beyond 90 days, improper labeling, failure to implement adequate training, failure to conduct hazardous waste inspections, and failure to provide emergency equipment.  Penalty:  $170,000

According to the EPA, each company has corrected the violations.

Two quick notes on the above violations.  First, this serves as a reminder that administrative oversights (not actual releases) are often the focus of enforcement.  Second, failing to implement contingency plans (not just completing them) is a common miscue, and training is one implementation issue that can be easily overlooked.  For more information about Dragun’s environmental compliance services, see our compliance page.

FIFRA Violations

PBI-Gordon supplies herbicide products to companies such as Ace Hardware, Lowes, and Walmart.  As they are the registrant of these herbicides, they are responsible for ensuring that distributors are using proper labeling.

Based on two separate EPA inspections (June 9, 2015, and July 29, 2016), PBI-Gordon violated labeling requirements (including proper use, storage, and disposal).

PBI-Gordon was fined under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Insecticide Act (FIFRA).  Penalty:  $79,000

PCB Cleanup in Michigan

In early December, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a sizable settlement with NCR Corporation in Michigan.  The issue, involving polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dates back decades.

The EPA states, “Historically, the Kalamazoo River was used as a power source for paper mills that were built along the river and a disposal site for the paper mills and the communities adjacent to the river.  NCR arranged for disposal of carbonless copy paper contaminated with chemicals called [PCB] at the site….EPA, working with EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy), has cleaned up three of the six operable units, removed nearly 450,000 cubic yards of contaminated material from the sites, cleaned up and restored seven miles of the Kalamazoo River and banks, and capped 82 acres worth of contaminated material.”

In addition to spending $135.7 million to clean up three additional operable units and 80 plus miles of rivers, NCR will pay the following:

  • $76.5 million to the EPA for past and future costs.
  • $27 million to natural resources trustees of the Kalamazoo River Natural Resources Trustee Council.
  • $6 million to the State of Michigan for past and future costs.

All of the above actions were announced by the EPA in November and December of 2019.

As you put together your environmental “to do list” for 2020, consider contacting your Dragun project manager to discuss how we might help you.  If you don’t have a project manager at Dragun, contact me at 248-932-0228, Ext. 134, and I will connect you with one of our experienced staff.

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