“SUPERFUND IS SEXY AGAIN.”

According to a senior US EPA official, “Superfund is sexy again.” Newly discovered health risks attributed to so-called “emerging contaminants” are causing federal and state agencies to revisit long closed Superfund sites and evaluate the environmental and human health risks at myriad new locations.  These ubiquitous environmental contaminants, including perfluoronated compounds and 1,4-dioxane, present a significant risk to human health at very low concentrations.  So much so, that US EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, recently held a Leadership Summit to discuss these new emerging contaminants and develop a coordinated response across EPA regions.

The US EPA and several state environmental agencies are establishing very low guidelines or standards for these contaminants.  They are also beginning to require responsible parties to test for these chemicals at existing (and in some cases closed) state and federal superfund sites, and, if present, to develop plans to address the attendant risks.  Eventually, the government will restrict the discharge of these contaminants in waste water and the air, which will pose another significant layer of compliance headaches and expenses.   While this may be good news for government regulators, environmental attorneys and consultants, this news is bad for landowners and developers.

One of these emerging contaminants is actually comprised of an entire class known as the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (“PFAS”) compounds, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (“PFOS”).  Until their use was phased out in the United States over the last two decades, manufacturers used these compounds in non-stick cookware, water repellent fabrics, firefighting foams and a variety of other applications.  PFAS are often found in elevated concentrations near military bases, airports, firefighting academies, metal plating plants, landfills and manufacturing facilities where they were used.   In a perfect storm of problems for responsible parties who have to deal with these emerging contaminants, they are highly persistent in the environment, expensive to monitor and test, difficult to treat and pose potential health risks at very low concentrations.  For example, the US EPA Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS is 70 parts per trillion (“PPT”).

Another emerging contaminant is 1,4-dioxane.  1,4-dioxane is often found along with other industrial solvents such as TCE, but it is also present in consumer products, such as shampoos and cleaning agents.  Because of their widespread consumer use, these compounds are found just about everywhere.  For example, 1,4-dioxane can be found in private septic systems and associated groundwater.  The MassDEP groundwater clean up standard for 1,4-dioxane is 300 PPT in potential or existing water supply areas.

To date, the US EPA has not set a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Thus, as far as the federal government is concerned, there is no enforceable standard.  However, as a result of a number of exceedances of the Lifetime Health Advisory level found by public water suppliers when they performed required monitoring for PFAS under EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, those water suppliers have taken action to limit public exposure.  For example, the Towns of Westfield, MA, near Barnes Air Force Base, and Ayer, MA, have both stopped using public water supply wells where detections of PFAS exceeded the Lifetime Health Advisory.  The Town of Westfield has recently filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of AFFF firefighting foam to recover damages.

The law and regulations governing site assessments and remediation for these contaminants is still “emerging.”  While some states, such as New Hampshire, have promulgated legally binding cleanup standards for certain PFAS, others, like Massachusetts, are still in the process of developing guidance and have not yet begun the official process of establishing a legally binding regulatory standard.  In early June, MassDEP issued “Final Recommendations for Interim Toxicity and Drinking Water Values” for testing as part of the Unregulated Chemical Monitoring program.  But this Interim Guidance does not establish clear enforceable standards.  Until standards are promulgated, the question of whether or not to test for these contaminants as part of a site assessment falls to the good judgment of the professional environmental consultant.  Thankfully, most environmental consultants are sufficiently knowledgeable about the potential presence of these contaminants to design an appropriate sampling and analytical program to protect their clients.

Because PFAS are not yet consistently regulated across the states and are not defined as a “hazardous substance” under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, (CERCLA or “Superfund”) administered by the US EPA, regulatory authority to compel assessment and remediation of PFAS varies from state to state and from site to site.  According to Regional Administrator Dunn, the Agency is reading the language of individual Superfund consent decrees to determine whether the responsible parties agreed to reopeners for only “hazardous substances,” or also for other “pollutants or contaminants,” which would encompass PFAS.  She emphasized that, at sites where the EPA concludes it does not have the legal authority to compel responsible parties to take further response actions, the relevant state may have authority to take such action.  She indicated that there has been some discord between the federal and state governments over this issue.

PFAS can be in solid waste.  The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act currently does not include PFAS within the definition of a hazardous waste.  Currently, only Vermont and New York states reportedly regulate PFAS as “hazardous wastes” under their parallel state programs.  Conceivably, this means that in all other 48 states, an industrial or other waste generator is not required to evaluate whether or not its waste streams contain PFAS, or make any special arrangements for storage, transportation or disposal of those wastes (such as using a RCRA permitted hazardous waste facility).  This challenges solid and hazardous waste disposal companies with the question of whether they want to handle wastes which may have PFAS, and expose themselves to the potential future worker exposure or environmental release liability that may ensue.

To make matters even more difficult, most states have not adopted surface water quality criteria, discharge or other limits, on the emissions of PFAS to water bodies, or to the air.  A few states, such as Vermont, have established policy limits on the concentrations of PFAS, which can be in landfill leachate discharged to a waste water treatment facility, but this is the exception to the rule.

These emerging contaminants present a real challenge on a number of fronts.  Because of the potentially very high cost of monitoring and remediation, prospective purchasers should first obtain clear environmental consulting guidance whether emerging contaminants should be tested for in a site assessment.  Second, in the process of performing environmental due diligence in a corporate transaction, attorneys and consultants may need to advise their clients that new site assessments be performed, including this testing, to avoid reliance on reports that pre-date the emergence of these contaminants and testing protocols.  Third, if emerging contaminants are found to have caused a very significant impact, such as loss of a water supply, consider whether or not the costs can be recovered.

Franklin’s adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” certainly applies to emerging contaminants.  Until the science is settled and the regulations are clear, there is simply too much uncertainty about the environmental and public health risks, potential liability and costs to remain ignorant about the possible presence of PFAS in whatever environmental media you are dealing with.

 

Environmental Law Update – Fall 2017

On October 19, 2017, NH DES released a letter to Responsible Parties, Owners and Permittees of certain classes of properties to conduct testing for Per- and Poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAS).  “Landfills (lined, unlined, active, and/or closed) that are subject to groundwater monitoring requirements” are identified as sites where NH DES will require the initial screening.  As noted in the letter, NH DES “strongly encourages stakeholders to sample and analyze, at a minimum, for the expanded list of nine PFAS analytes outline in the Guidance” provided by NH DES.

On October 18, 2017, the Rhode Island DEM established a 70 parts per trillion Groundwater Quality Standard for PFOA, PFOS or any combination of these compounds in groundwater classified as GAA or GA (groundwater suitable for drinking water use without treatment). Read More → “Environmental Law Update – Fall 2017”

MassDEP is Calling RCC Permit Applications

If you are operating a recycling or composting facility under a Determination of Need (DON) and have not updated your permitted status, time is up.  The final deadline to bring a DON facility into compliance with the 2012 recycling/composting regulations was May 23, 2017.  If you have not filed papers with MassDEP yet, you need to act now.

Owners of DON facilities have one of three options: certify that the facility is exempt under 310 CMR 16.03, certify that the facility qualifies for a “General Permit” under 310 CMR 16.04 or apply for a site specific “Recycling Composting and Conversion” (RCC) Permit under 310 CMR 16.05.

The requirements to qualify for a General Permit are stricter than those that applied to a DON.  Consequently, you may find that your DON facility now requires a site specific RCC permit. For example, to qualify for a recycling facility General Permit the owner/operator shall “ensure that the operation handles recyclable materials and residuals only within a handling area, containers or trucks that are sufficiently enclosed and covered to prevent a public nuisance.” We understand that the Department interprets this to mean that all asphalt, brick and concrete recycling operations must be enclosed to qualify for a General Permit, which was not a DON requirement under the old regulations.

Due to the stricter General Permit criteria, and the dramatic consequences of filing a false or incorrect “Certification” with the MassDEP, we are advising clients to consult with us before filing a Certification to come into compliance.

For questions, call or email Tom Mackie.

Proposed Air Regulations

MassDEP has proposed an omnibus package of air pollution control regulations at 310 CMR 7.00 that should be promulgated this Spring. The amendments cover applicability of Plan Approvals for GHG and CO2 at new and existing facilities; establish exemptions; and include updates to match EPA requirements for lead emissions, VOC RACT, NOx RACT, and a NOx Ozone Season budget.
The proposed air regulations provide much needed timelines and procedures for requesting adjudicatory appeals of air decisions. Who has standing to appeal, and when and how to appeal air permits was the subject of several MassDEP adjudicatory hearing and Superior Court decisions. The regulations now define “aggrieved person.” The “date of issuance” is the date the decision is sent to the applicant. Importantly, a copy of the decision must be posted on the MassDEP’s website in order to notify people when the 21-day appeal period begins. Ten person groups have a right to request an adjudicatory hearing, provided they have submitted comments during the public comment period on a pending permit application for air emission sources that emit 10 tons or greater of regulated pollutants, and only on issues relating to damage of the environment.

The Demise of the Stream Protection Rule

The Republican Congress and the POTUS have stricken the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule that protected waterways from coal mining that was eight years in the making.  The rule would have imposed stronger requirements for avoiding coal mining practices that pollute streams and sources of drinking water, for restoring streams, and for reclaiming and replanting mined lands.  Testing and monitoring of streams near coal mines before, during and after mining were required.  On February 2, 2017, Congress employed a little-used tool called the Congressional Review Act to block the rule with a simple majority vote (House 228-194 and Senate 54-45).  On February 16, 2017, the POTUS became the first president in 16 years to sign a regulatory repeal resolution.  The rule would have protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest in Appalachia.

Title 5 On-Site Wastewater Systems

MassDEP is reviewing on-site wastewater systems regulated under 310 CMR 15.00.  There has not been a change in design flows since 1978 (except for one bedroom elderly housing units).  There have not been major revisions since 1995 when certain Title 5 innovative/alternative systems were approved (RSF, FAST, BIOCLERE, ORENCO, RUCK).  Additional pilot, provisional and remedial systems can be viewed on the MassDEP website.

Septic systems are the largest source of nitrogen pollution in Cape Cod embayments.  Traditional Title 5 systems do not remove nitrogen.  Falmouth and the Buzzards Bay Coalition are conducting a pilot program to reduce nitrogen from homes on West Falmouth Harbor.  Using grant money, 20 homeowners will upgrade their old systems with “layer cake” systems which have multi-layer leach fields to remove nitrogen.  Septic tank effluent passes through a layer for nitrification (18 inches of sand), for denitrification (mixed sand and sawdust, which causes nitrogen gas to dissipate into the air), and then discharge through gravel layer to groundwater.  Testing in Florida showed 85% removal of nitrogen.  Early results in Falmouth show 88% removal.  The systems will be monitored for three years.

The regulatory review should dovetail with the groundwater discharge permit regulations at 310 CMR 5.00 to potentially change the requirement for private wastewater treatment facilities and to allow innovative treatment under Title 5 for flows greater than 10,000 gpd to 15,000 gpd.  The costs for hydrogeo investigations, permitting, purchase, and O&M for wastewater treatment plants is prohibitive.  Conventional, innovative and alternative systems can treat effluent at significantly lower costs than treatment plants.

The Fate of the Environment in the Age of Trump

Since Trump’s inauguration, friends and colleagues have been asking, “what impact will President Trump have on environmental law?” Along with the rest of the nation (and world), we are waiting to see just how far Trump will push his anti-environment agenda.

Here are a few observations from the dizzying first 90 days:
Read More → “The Fate of the Environment in the Age of Trump”

…Oh, Boston you’re my home.

Since 1997, Red Sox Nation has celebrated home victories with the post-game anthem “Dirty Water,” the 1966 cynical paean to the Charles River and Boston Harbor.  “Well, I love that dirty water; Oh, Boston you’re my home.”

Beginning in the 1800’s, the Charles River and Boston Harbor were polluted by domestic, municipal and industrial wastes.  Raw sewage, chemical discharges, and leaching riverbank landfills turned the river into a toxic sluiceway flowing into the nastiest harbor in the world.
Read More → “…Oh, Boston you’re my home.”

If the Fat Lady is off the stage, why is the band still playing?

Earlier this year, MassDEP quietly let it be known in an advisory committee meeting that it would be re-visiting old MCP sites with trichloroethylene (TCE) releases to determine if the level of TCE on the property complied with the evolving standards that have lowered the threshold values for TCE.  In particular, MassDEP is concerned with the possibility that vapor intrusion of TCE into indoor air could have an impact on human health, particularly with vulnerable populations.  While the ripple from this announcement caused an initial shock that MassDEP’s actions would undermine investment backed expectations on achieving lasting solutions to hazardous contaminants, MassDEP has always retained the ability to act to protect human health.  Thus far, we have not seen a torrent of activity from MassDEP on this front, but more time will tell how extensive its review will be.  It is a good reminder to be mindful of the long-tail complications that can arise from contaminated properties – even after extensive remedial activities and achieving an RAO and Permanent Solution under the MCP.

While the initial focus of MassDEP’s recent comments was on TCE, we are also witnessing emerging “contaminants of concern,” like Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”), Perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and 1, 4 Dioxane, that may result in re-opening sites that were closed after addressing the initial releases that brought the properties under the MCP.  PFOS and PFOA do not have federal regulatory detection limits, but there are health-related studies showing that they are toxic and carcinogenic.  MassDEP has set a regulatory guideline for 1, 4 Dioxane in drinking water, as well as groundwater and soil cleanup standards in the MCP.  As more information is developed about all three of these contaminants, the regulatory requirements are likely to increase, which may result in returning to sites that were previously closed under the MCP and M.G.L. c. 21E. Read More → “If the Fat Lady is off the stage, why is the band still playing?”

Environmental Law Update – Summer 2016

In June, President Obama signed into law a revised version of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Originally passed in 1976, TSCA was designed to have EPA evaluate chemicals to determine if their use required further regulatory control.  As TSCA was implemented it came under considerable criticism because it required the government to have evidence that a chemical posed a risk before it could require testing which could result in greater regulatory control. The new TSCA changes this approach and mandates a review of chemicals in commerce and a requirement that all new chemicals must be assessed against health-based standards – rather than under a cost-benefit standard in the original legislation.  On June 29, 2016, EPA released its First Year Implementation Plan under the revised TSCA.  The aggressive plan includes a timeline for establishing new rules under the legislation including regulations for setting criteria to identify high priority chemicals and an “Inventory Rule”, that would require industry to report the chemicals it manufactured or processed in the previous ten years.  The First Year Implementation Plan also set a schedule for the continuation of on-going projects to identify risks from TCE and chemicals involved in paint removing applications, especially the chemicals methylene chloride (MC) and methylpyrrolidone (NMP).

One of the few times that the Obama administration and Congress were able to find common ground last year resulted in a dramatic increase in fines under federal environmental statutes.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 included a provision to amend the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 (Sec. 701 of Public Law 114-70).  The amendment included a “catch-up” provision that enabled agencies to adjust their penalties to account for inflation since the date the specific penalty was enacted or previously adjusted.  There was a 150% cap placed on the rate of increase, but many of the penalties under the environmental statutes administered by EPA increased dramatically.  For example, penalties under the Clean Water Act for permit violations under § 1319(d) increased from $25,000 per day of violation to $51,570.  Similarly, administrative penalties under CERCLA increased from $25,000 to $53,907 and from $75,000 to $161,721 respectively.  On July 1, 2016, EPA released the Interim Final Rule that includes the Table that will be incorporated in 40 C.F.R. § 19.4 with a complete rundown of the environmental statutes and fees.  Going forward we will likely see continued increases because the Act implements annual reviews of statutory civil penalties and allows agencies to make annual adjustments without going through the rulemaking protocols of the Administrative Procedures Act.  We will also see settlements demands dramatically increase in NPDES citizen suits under the CWA.

This Spring, Governor Baker announced that he is directing MassDEP to proceed with the steps to have the state administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  Massachusetts is one of just four remaining states that do not administer the federal NPDES program at the state level.  Taking over the local administration of the NPDES program will be a multi-year process, but MassDEP has started the process.  Hopefully more local control will lead to more responsive interactions between the regulators and the regulated community, as the state and industry work together to implement best stormwater management practices for the benefit of our water resources.

In May, the Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the state’s compliance with the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in Kain v. DEP.  The SJC held that MassDEP failed to implement the GWSA because the agency did not “promulgate regulations that address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released, limit the aggregate emissions released from each group of regulated sources or category of sources, set emissions limits for each year, and set limits that decline on an annual basis.”

In August, MassDEP released proposed draft revisions of the Air Regulations at 310 CMR 7.00.  The topics addressed by these proposed regulations include: (a) establishing thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions that will require a Plan Approval; (b) requiring Plan Approvals for non-major modifications of existing Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits; (c) updates to Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) requirements for volatile organic compounds; and (d) revised procedures for administrative review of an air permit issued by MassDEP.  The comment period on the proposed regulations closes on Monday, September 26, 2016.