EPA Finalizes Analytical Methods Update Rule
This week EPA finalized and published the Clean Water Act Methods Update Rule for the Analysis of Effluent. One of EPA’s responsibilities is to approve analytical methods for measuring regulated pollutants in wastewater. The regulated community and laboratories use these approved methods for determining compliance with NPDES permits or other monitoring requirements. In this final rule EPA is promulgating changes to analytical methods and test procedures used by municipalities and industries to analyze the chemical, physical, and biological components of wastewater required by regulations under the Clean Water Act. Changes include revised EPA methods, revised methods published by voluntary consensus standard bodies (e.g. ASTM), new methods reviewed under the Alternate Test Procedures (ATP) program including clarifying procedures for EPA approval of nationwide and limited use ATPs, and procedure revisions for determining method detection limit. EPA believes “these changes will provide increased flexibility for the regulated community in meeting monitoring requirements while improving data quality. In addition, this update to the CWA methods is incorporating technological advances in analytical technology.” This final rule is effective July 19, 2021.
IG Report: Resource Constraints, Leadership Decisions, and Workforce Culture Led to a Decline in Federal Enforcement
On May 13, 2021 EPA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) issued a report which indicated that EPA’s compliance monitoring activities, enforcement actions, monetary enforcement results, and environmental benefits generally declined from FYs 2007 through 2018 nationwide. The IG noted this downward trend also occurred at the regional level and on a statute-by-statute basis. While annual enforcement measures, such as penalty dollars assessed or commitments to clean up pollution, declined, the results varied year-to-year based on the conclusion of large cases.
IG determined that the decline in enforcement resources was a primary driver behind the observed declining enforcement trends, resulting in fewer compliance monitoring activities and concluded enforcement actions. The IG believes EPA leadership also made strategic decisions that affected enforcement trends, such as focusing limited resources on the most serious cases and, in 2017, emphasizing deference to state enforcement programs and compliance assistance.
The IG concluded that EPA’s annual enforcement reports do not provide context for understanding the EPA’s enforcement accomplishments and the impact these enforcement activities have on human health and the environment. “For example, the EPA does not measure or report data for compliance-assistance activities, informal enforcement actions, and noncompliance rates.” The IG recommended that EPA also provide additional information such as the type of inspections conducted and the types and toxicity of pollutants removed from the environment.
The IG provided numerous recommendations to the Office of Enforcement and Compliance assurance, most of which remain unresolved. A copy of the report can be found here: Resource Constraints, Leadership Decisions, and Workforce Culture Led to a Decline in Federal Enforcement (epa.gov)
USGS Study: Potential toxicity of pesticides to aquatic life in US rivers is widespread
What is already known on this topic?
Pesticides are a threat to healthy freshwater ecosystems, but expense and logistics of large-scale studies have impeded an understanding of the impacts of pesticides on a national scale.
What is added by this study?
This study assessed concentrations of 221 pesticides measured during 2013–2017 in streams and rivers across the conterminous United States, compared the results to data on pesticide use, and evaluated the concentrations in terms of EPA aquatic- and human-health criteria.
What are the implications for water availability?
Exceedances of a human-health benchmark were rare, but numerous sites had one or more exceedances of a chronic or acute benchmark for aquatic life. Agricultural use of pesticides contributed to some of the highest concentrations of pesticides in streams and rivers.
A new USGS study of pesticides in U.S. rivers and streams reports that, on average, 17 pesticides were detected at least once at the 74 river and stream sites sampled 12 to 24 times per year during 2013–2017. Herbicides were detected much more frequently than insecticides and fungicides.
The number of pesticides detected at a site over the study mirrored the intensity of pesticide use in the region where the site was located. Pesticide use intensity was greatest in the Midwest (49 kg/km2), where 25 pesticides were detected, on average, at each site. Herbicides were heavily used in agricultural settings and were consistently detected in surface waters at concentrations > 100 ng/L. In contrast, insecticides had lower agricultural-use intensities and surface-water detection frequencies at concentrations > 100 ng/L were rare.
An EPA chronic aquatic-life benchmark—estimates of the concentrations below which pesticides are not expected to represent a risk to aquatic life—was exceeded at least once at more than half of the stream sites in every region—Midwest, South, Northeast, West, and Pacific. Such exceedances indicate the potential for harmful effects to aquatic life such as fish, algae, and invertebrates like aquatic insects. However, an EPA human-health benchmark was exceeded only four times (1.1% of samples).
Of the 221 pesticides measured, just 17 were responsible for the aquatic-life benchmark exceedances. Many of these 17 were herbicides, which frequently occurred at relatively high concentrations that exceeded benchmarks for fish, invertebrates, and plants. Others were insecticides, which occurred at lower concentrations, but are much more toxic to aquatic invertebrates than herbicides.
Citation: Stackpoole, S.M., Shoda, M.E., Medalie, L., Stone, W.W., 2021, Pesticides in US Rivers: Regional differences in use, occurrence, and environmental toxicity, 2013 to 2017, Science of The Total Environment, ISSN 0048-9697, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147147.
Data used for this study can be accessed here.
EPA Announces Environmental Justice Consultations on Risk Management Rulemakings for TSCA Chemicals
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invites environmental justice communities and stakeholders to participate in environmental justice consultations regarding the development of risk management actions under section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The first consultations will focus on Asbestos, Part 1: Chrysotile Asbestos, Pigment Violet 29, Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Perchloroethylene (PCE) in June 2021.
EPA is offering these sessions to increase opportunities for participation. Sessions will provide an overview of the TSCA risk management requirements, the findings from the final risk evaluations, the tools available to manage the unreasonable risks, and an opportunity for input on environmental justice concerns. These consultations are open to the public, and EPA is inviting national, local, and non-governmental organizations, communities, and other interested stakeholders to participate. In addition to these environmental justice consultations, EPA is implementing a robust outreach effort on risk management that includes consultations with small businesses, state and local governments, and tribes. There will also be an open public comment period on proposed risk management actions.
Find registration information for the environmental justice consultations and more information on EPA’s risk management outreach here.
While outreach and stakeholder engagement on risk management activities for these chemicals moves forward, EPA is also reviewing final risk evaluations for these chemicals to ensure that they reflect the best available science and protect human health and the environment, in accordance with the Executive Orders and other direction provided by the Biden-Harris Administration. The agency will keep stakeholders updated as decisions are made and next steps are determined.
This first sessions will take place in June 2021. EPA is planning additional Environmental Justice Consultations on proposed risk management actions under section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act. For mor information visit Risk Management for Existing Chemicals under TSCA or subscribe to the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics listserv here.
EPA Responds to Phosphoric Acid, Phosphogympsum Wastewater Petition Under TSCA
Today, EPA announced the availability of the Agency’s response to a portion of a petition it received February 8, 2021, from 18 organizations requesting EPA take several actions under section 7004(a) of RCRA; section 21 of TSCA; and section 553 of the APA related to phosphogypsum and process wastewater from phosphoric acid production (process wastewater). EPA has determined that only one of those actions is an appropriate request under TSCA Section 21: A request to issue a test rule under TSCA requiring testing of phosphogypsum and process wastewater from phosphoric acid production. EPA is treating the other portions of the petition involving TSCA as a petition under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA); those other portions request EPA to initiate the prioritization process for designating phosphogypsum and process wastewater as high-priority substances for risk evaluation, and to make a determination by rule under TSCA that the use of phosphogypsum in road construction is a significant new use.
After careful consideration, EPA has denied the request to initiate a proceeding to issue a test rule TSCA section 4 because the TSCA section 21 petition does not set forth the facts establishing that it is necessary for the Agency to issue such a rule. In particular, the petition does not demonstrate that existing information and experience on the effects of phosphogypsum and process wastewater are insufficient or that testing of phosphogypsum and process wastewater with respect to such effects is necessary to develop such information. Therefore, the petitioners have not demonstrated that the rule they requested is necessary.
Today’s announcement does not provide EPA’s response to two other TSCA-requested actions: that EPA is to initiate the prioritization process for designating phosphogypsum and process wastewater as high-priority substances for risk evaluation, and to make a determination by rule under TSCA that the use of phosphogypsum in road construction is a significant new use. EPA is treating these two portions of the petition involving TSCA as a petition under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Today’s announcement also does not address the petitioners’ requests under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Learn more about the petition, EPA’s conclusions, and next steps in the Federal Register Notice.
In Case You Missed It: NOAA Revises Climate Normals
Every 10 years, NOAA releases an analysis of U.S. weather of the past three decades that calculates average values for temperature, rainfall and other conditions. That time has come again. Known as the U.S. Climate Normals, these 30-year averages — now spanning 1991-2020 — represent the new “normals” of our changing climate. They are calculated using climate observations collected at local weather stations across the country and are corrected for bad or missing values and any changes to the weather station over time before becoming part of the climate record.
Simply stated: The Normals are the basis for judging how daily, monthly and annual climate conditions compare to what’s normal for a specific location in today’s climate.
The U.S. Climate Normals are a large suite of data products that provide information about typical climate conditions for thousands of locations across the United States. Normals act both as a ruler to compare today’s weather and tomorrow’s forecast, and as a predictor of conditions in the near future. The official normals are calculated for a uniform 30 year period, and consist of annual/seasonal, monthly, daily, and hourly averages and statistics of temperature, precipitation, and other climatological variables from almost 15,000 U.S. weather stations.
NCEI generates the official U.S. normals every 10 years in keeping with the needs of our user community and the requirements of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and National Weather Service (NWS). The 1991–2020 U.S. Climate Normals are the latest in a series of decadal normals first produced in the 1950s. These data allow travelers to pack the right clothes, farmers to plant the best crop varieties, and utilities to plan for seasonal energy usage. Many other important economic decisions that are made beyond the predictive range of standard weather forecasts are either based on or influenced by climate normals.
For the past decade, the Normals have been based on weather observations from 1981 to 2010. In early May, climate experts at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) issued an updated collection based on the weather occurring from 1991 to 2020. The data set reflects a “new normal” that takes the most recent 30 years of climate change-influenced weather and climate conditions into account. (More: See our Climate Normals Explainer.)
ACWA, State Associations Comment on PFAS ELG ANPRM
This week, ACWA, Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, and Environmental Council of the States submitted joint comments in response to EPA’s advanced noticed of proposed rulemaking, Clean Water Act Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards: Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers Point Source Category, Docket # EPA-HQ-OW-2020-0582.
In the letter, the Associations reiterate urgency on PFAS standards development, highlight key points from their joint 2019 PFAS Action Plan comment letter, and request EPA take seven actions during the rulemaking:
- Collaborate on PFAS Data Collection and Sharing
- Engage with States on PFAS Generally
- Integrate Data Collection Opportunities into the Suite of EPA Activities into the Future, with Specific Focus on Discharge Data and Treatment Options
- Develop PFAS Discharge Prioritization Guidance for States
- Evaluate Other ELG Categories that May Apply to Industries in which PFAS Discharges Have Been Quantified or May Exist
- Consider Developing PFAS Standard(s) for Facilities Using PFAS in Products or Processes, Potentially Beyond the Scope Identified in this Future Rule
- Use Existing Data in Addition to Generating New PFAS Data
You can access the letter here.
Meetings and Webinars
EPA Webinar: Community-enabled Lifecycle Analysis of Stormwater Infrastructure Costs
U.S. EPA’s Office of Research & Development, as part of a series of water research webinars, will host a webinar on Community-enabled Lifecycle Analysis of Stormwater Infrastructure Costs (CLASIC): Tool Functionality and Case Studies. The webinar will be held on Wednesday, May 26 from 2:00pm – 3:00pm eastern.
EPA’s Office of Research and Development hosts the Water Research Webinar Series to share current research activities and results. Through innovative science and engineering, EPA’s researchers are developing cost-effective, sustainable solutions to 21st century complex water issues. The scientific results and innovative technologies developed support EPA’s mandate to protect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our Nation’s water resources, and to ensure safe drinking water and water systems. It is EPA’s policy to make reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities wishing to participate in the Agency’s programs and activities, pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 791. Any request for accommodation should be made to Michelle Latham at email@example.com in advance of the webinar. For future viewing, a closed-captioned recording of the webinar will be made available on EPA’s YouTube site.
EPA Webinar: Intro to ECHO Webinar – June 15
Join EPA for its next Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) webinar on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, 1:30-2:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time. During this webinar, EPA will provide an overview about the data in ECHO and guide users through how to use ECHO to answer environmental enforcement and compliance questions. The focus of this webinar will be a collection of short, step-by-step demonstrations geared toward new and infrequent users. We will demonstrate the capabilities of the ECHO Facility Search and other features to answer questions such as:
- How do I search for a specific facility?
- How do I search for facilities in my community?
- How do I search for facilities releasing a pollutant?
- How do I find visual depictions of data that track both facility and regulatory agency performance?
EPA Tools & Resources Training Webinar: Virtual Beach (VB)
June 3, 2021
3:00-4:00 pm EDT
To protect public health, beach managers need to continually assess the level of potentially harmful microbes in the water. However, traditional culture-based testing methods take a full 24 hours to get results – preventing same-day, proactive beach closures and leaving many recreational swimmers open to sickness or infection, or potentially close a beach needlessly and incur economic losses. EPA’s Virtual Beach (VB) software offers a solution. VB is a decision support tool that facilitates the development of statistical models of water quality at site-specific locations. It allows users to estimate any general response variable using commonly measured environmental data. These estimates can then be used to inform site-based management decisions, such as issuing swimming or shellfish harvesting advisories. This webinar will feature a live demonstration of VB3 – a desktop PC application. We will discuss how VB is used to assist in advisory issuances in the Great Lakes states and to forecast water conditions in states and other recent case study examples. For more information, visit the Virtual Beach webpage.
National Academies: Federal and Congressional Priorities for Water Science and Resources
Spring 2021 Board Meeting | May 24-25, 2021
The Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) warmly invites you to attend the spring 2021 meeting on the topic of “Federal and Congressional Priorities for Water Science and Resources”. The meeting will be held virtually on May 24-25, 2021, from 12:00-5:00 PM ET each day.
The spring meeting of the Water Science and Technology Board will engage federal agencies and Congressional staff on their water priorities in the coming years, as well as the science research and policy issues that need to be addressed to support action on those priorities. There will also be cross-cutting discussions among the invited speakers and WSTB members on high priority issues in water quality, water quantity, and climate-related water issues.
Agency Water Priorities for the Next Four Years
- Spiro Stefanou, U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Richard Kidd, U.S. Department of Defense
- Patrick Breysse, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Suzanne van Drunick, Environmental Protection Agency
- Benita Best-Wong, Environmental Protection Agency
- Tanya Trujillo, U.S. Department of Interior
- David Palumbo, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
- Don Cline, U.S. Geological Survey
- Alejandro Moreno, U.S. Department of Energy
- Michael Grimm, Federal Emergency Management Agency
- Wayne Higgins, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Lawrence Friedl, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Julien Katchinoff, U.S. Department of State
- Karl Rockne, National Science Foundation
- Laura Lautz, National Science Foundation
Congressional Water Priorities for the Next Four Years
Moderated by Dave Wegner, WSTB Member
- Ryan Seiger, House Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
- Matthew Muirragui, House Natural Resource, Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife
- John Kane, Senate Environmental and Public Works
- Josh Mahan, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
- Alfredo Gomez, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Harmful Algal Blooms and Algal Toxins
May 25th | 2:00-3:30 PM ET
Presentation 1: How Cyanobacteria Work: Converting Sunlight Into Usable Energy. Cyanobacteria are widely known for their toxin producing and bloom-forming capabilities. Although cyanobacterial blooms can be a threat to public and ecosystem health, they are also globally important producers of oxygen. This presentation will give a detailed introduction of photosynthesis in cyanobacteria. It will also explore how the photosynthetic processes differ between cyanobacteria and plants and will provide some explanation as to why cyanobacteria seem to thrive in conditions that would hinder the growth of green algae. (Presentation Anna Boegehold, EPA’s Office of Research and Development)
Presentation 2: Cyanotoxins in Oregon: Transitioning to Mandatory Monitoring for Susceptible Sources. In 2018, when a large system detected cyanotoxins above the EPA health advisory level in treated water, Oregon moved from a voluntary cyanotoxin sampling program to mandatory monitoring. This presentation will cover how Oregon transitioned from the voluntary program to mandatory monitoring for cyanotoxins at susceptible sources and will discuss what the regulations require and statewide results, issues encountered, and what resources have been created to assist public water systems. Attendees will learn about the risk of cyanotoxins and what system operators can do to minimize this risk. (Presentation by Kari Salis, Oregon Health Authority)
About the Presenters
Senior Environmental Counsel – Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Location: Nashville, TN
TDEC’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) has a welcoming and collaborative culture focused on development and fostering success among its staff. OGC seeks to add an attorney to its growing team of 18 attorneys. This is an exciting opportunity for experienced attorneys looking to join a mission driven team focused on delivering quality work in accordance with the highest ethical standards while enjoying work life balance. This opportunity requires a Tennessee law license and a minimum of five years of experience in the full-time practice of law. Experience applying the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), SMCRA, CERCLA, and/or RCRA is preferred.
To learn more, click here.
Harmful Algal Bloom Response Program Coordinator (Environmental Specialist) – Kansas Department of Health and Environment
Location: Topeka, KS
Closing Date: June 2, 2021
Seeking candidates with bachelor’s degree in natural sciences or natural resource management to serve as Coordinator for the state Harmful Algal Blooms Response Program. A Master’s degree in limnology or related field is a plus, as is experience with water quality monitoring, project management, data management, and statistics. From April through October, the incumbent will perform lead functions on response actions; they will manage complaints, coordinate fieldwork and sample analysis, lead weekly meetings to issue advisories, track indicators and trends, and maintain clear and timely communications with external as well as internal partners. Some program related field and lab work may also be required. From November through March, the incumbent will analyze data, update program related publications and internal documents, build and maintain a HAB literature library, and organize an annual HAB stakeholder meeting. Throughout the year, they may represent the agency at meetings, participate in special projects, and perform additional work to support other surface water programs. Some fieldwork and conference attendance may be required, which can include reimbursed travel of a few days per month.
To learn more, click here.
Environmental Specialist – Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Location: Des Moines, IA
Closing Date: June 1, 2021
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a job vacancy for an Environmental Specialist position within the Water Quality Bureau’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Section, located in Des Moines, IA. The position is responsible for the review and issuance of NPDES program permits for regulated industrial, municipal, and semipublic facilities, in accordance with the Federal Clean Water Act. The position will also process permit renewals, modifications, amendments, and necessary revocation, within the regulatory requirements of the program. Duties will also include meeting with applicants as needed for technical assistance, making presentations about the NPDES program, and coordination with local officials to ensure that all federal and state procedures, including required public participation, are met.
For more information, click here.
Municipal Stormwater Grant Project Specialist – Washington Department of Ecology
Location: Lacey, WA
Closing Date: May 31, 2021