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Archive for May, 2018

https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/

U.S. Chemical Safety Board: Arkema Inc. Chemical Plant Final Investigation Report

Arkema Inc. knew about the risk of flooding at its Crosby facility.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which comes nearly a year after a fire and explosion at the facility injured twelve first responders.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding at Arkema Crosby, leading to the failure of backup generators and an explosion of organic peroxides on the premises.

The CSB report details the investigation and outlines best practices for future events. While the rainfall that occurred during Harvey was extraordinary, the report notes the rise in extreme weather events and Arkema’s location in the 100-year floodplain.

The report also finds that Arkema cannot claim ignorance of its precarious situation. A year before Harvey, Arkema’s insurer Factory Mutual Insurance Company (FM Global) notified the company of its flooding risk.

The CSB recommends more robust guidance to allow industry to better evaluate flood risks. The report also recommends that the EPA take more steps to limit risk from reactive hazards.

Chemical safety reform is needed to protect communities like Crosby. We shouldn’t be in harm’s way.

 

View the final investigation report at https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/. 

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In the greater Houston area, ozone season lasts from March to November. In 2018, we’ve already had 12 ozone action days. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, ozone action days are designated on warm, sunny days that are favorable to the formation of ozone, a compound that forms at near the ground in the atmosphere through complex reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. While a lot of people think bad air quality occurs only in areas near the industry along the Houston Ship Channel, on some days readings at the ozone monitor near the Woodlands can be higher than at monitors along the Ship Channel. Public Citizen, along with Corey Williams from Air Alliance Houston, and a small group of Woodlands residents sat down with UH Professor Jimmy Flynn to learn more.

The Jones State Forest Air Monitor

University of Houston operates the Jones State Forest Air Monitor. The monitor is not part of TCEQ’s network of regulatory air monitors. It collects data on ozone, carbon monoxide, and meteorology. The monitor is attached to a tower and collects readings above the tree tops to help ensure that it is measuring ambient air quality.

Stagnant Air = Bad Ozone

Ozone is a harmful byproduct of a reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). NOx and VOCs are emitted from transportation, industrial processes, and some natural processes. Ozone can cause serious problems especially for people who are already vulnerable, like children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions.

One of the biggest risk factors for ozone formation, according to Dr. Flynn, is stagnant air. Stagnant air occurs when an air mass remains over a region for an extended period of time. There are no heavy breezes or precipitation to clear pollutants out of the atmosphere. Dr. Flynn also mentioned that for ozone in particular, rainfall events will not do much to clear ozone out of the air due to its lack of solubility. Ozone needs air movement to clear it out.

Do you know what to do on an ozone action day?

Learn how to protect yourself and your family when ozone action days occur. You can sign up for alerts through the TCEQ here. Dr. Flynn told us that staying inside on high ozone days is a great way to protect your health because ozone concentrations tend to be much lower inside. Stay safe!

 

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If you live in certain cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas, and Houston, you may see that Texas sometimes calls “Ozone Action Days.” Ozone Action Days are hot, dry, sunny days when ground-level ozone is forecast to reach levels of health concern. Ground-level ozone (as distinct from the “ozone layer” of our atmosphere that protects us from the harmful rays of the sun) is one of six pollutants that are regulated by the Clean Air Act. These six common air pollutants are: 

  1. Particle Pollution (particulate matter or PM)
  2. Ground-level ozone.
  3. Carbon monoxide.
  4. Sulfur oxides.
  5. Nitrogen oxides.
  6. Lead

The EPA uses the Air Quality Index (AQI) to notify the public about local air quality. Certain groups of people are especially vulnerable to air pollution including children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. When the AQI reaches levels of ozone pollution that are unhealthy for these sensitive groups, an “Ozone Action Day” is designated. This means that you should take steps to limit your exposure to air pollution and your contribution of pollutants.

The ozone forecast seasons are based on when each region is likely to experience elevated ozone concentrations. Some areas, like Austin, have an ozone season between March 1 to November 30th of each year. Other areas, like Houston, can have ozone days at any time throughout the year. Each forecast predicts whether ozone levels in the area are expected to reach or exceed the EPA’s AQI Level Orange (or a level that is “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”).

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) forecasts ozone pollution each day during ozone season. TCEQ sends its forecasts to the National Weather Service, which broadcasts them across its “weather wire.” You can get email or text notifications of these forecasts from TCEQ or EPA. You may hear local news station announce that today or tomorrow will be an Ozone Action Day.

Above are nonattainment and near nonattainment areas (counties) in Texas. It was derived from TIGER data, and it precisely matches the Texas Outline, Texas Counties and the TCEQ Service Regions layers. Nonattainment is an area that has not achieved compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The ozone standard is currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb). These nonattainment counties were designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are designated based on their air quality monitoring data. Near nonattainment means an area is very close to falling into non compliance with the NAAQS. These counties have been designated by the TCEQ Office of Policy and Regulatory Development for planning reasons. These counties either have an ozone monitor or are part of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) that has an ozone monitor. It is very uncertain at this point which near nonattainment counties, if any, will ultimately be designated by the EPA as nonattainment. There are 16 ozone nonattainment areas in Texas: 8 counties in the Houston/ Galveston area (Montgomery, Liberty, Waller, Harris, Chambers, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston); 3 in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area(Hardin, Orange, Jefferson); 4 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Denton, Tarrant, Dallas, Collin); and 1 in El Paso (El Paso). There are 25 ozone near nonattainment counties: 1 in the Victoria area (Victoria); 2 in the Corpus Christi area (San Patricio, Nueces); 9 in the San Antonio/Austin area (Williamson, Travis, Bastrop, Hays, Caldwell, Comal, Bexar, Guadalupe, Wilson); and 5 in the Tyler/Longview area (Upshur, Harrison, Smith, Gregg, Rusk), and 8 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Johnson, Ellis, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, Hunt, Hood, Henderson).

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Six years ago, Public Citizen and our partners founded the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), which advocates for the health and well-being of residents of communities on the Houston Ship Channel. The coalition also includes Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition of Community Organizations, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

Recently, we had an opportunity to convene the HPCC in Houston to discuss our work. One purpose for the trip was to introduce our new Press Office, Angel Amaya, to Port Houston. Port Houston is the largest exporting port in the nation and the center of Houston’s petrochemical industry.

We started at Morgan’s Point Cemetery, the oldest continually operated cemetery in Harris County. It is the small green square in the middle of the photo above. Surrounding the cemetery is the Barbours Cut terminal and turning basin. This is one of two container terminals at Port Houston. Goods from all over the world come into Barbours Cut on very large vessels packed with shipping containers. One ship can carry as many as 4,500 containers. (There are even larger ships, the so-called “Post-Panamax” ships, that can carry as many as 9,000 containers, but they are too large to enter Barbours Cut.) The containers are offloaded by cranes (top of photo) and moved on to trucks and trains to be shipped around the country. Many of the engines that operate at a terminal like Barbours Cut–including marine vessels, cranes, short-haul equipment, drayage trucks, and locomotives–use polluting fossil fuels such as diesel. The Healthy Port Communities coalition advocates for replacement of these polluting vehicles with newer, clean technologies. Many funding opportunities are available for these replacements, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

A container terminal like Barbours Cut is probably what most people think of when they think of what goes on at a port. There is plenty of container traffic at Port Houston, but in fact this represents only about 15% of the total traffic.

The rest of the traffic consists of bulk products, most of them petrochemical. We visited many of the industrial facilities that produce these petrochemical products. One of the most infamous petrochemical facilities on the Houston Ship Channel is the Pasadena Refinery, owned by the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras.

Pasadena Refinery is notoriously troubled. In recent years, its woes have included explosions with injury, protests by environmental groups and concerned neighbors, lawsuits by environmental groups, and international bribery scandals. It was recently announced that Petrobras is trying to sell the refinery, although it is unclear who would want to buy such a dangerous liability.

We also visited Hartman Park in the community of Manchester, sometimes referred to as “Houston’s most polluted neighborhood.” Our friends at t.e.j.a.s. have advocated for years for the people of Manchester. When our new Press Officer Angel visited Hartman Park, she was struck by this mural:

Created by children living in Manchester, the mural perhaps unintentionally shows how intrusive polluting facilities are in the lives of people living on the Houston Ship Channel. An idyllic scene of children playing in a park is flanked by industrial stacks spewing pollution into the air. The mural is a stark reminder of what life is like for some of our most vulnerable neighbors in certain parts of Texas.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is advocating on the behalf of those neighbors who live in Houston. We finished our trip to Houston with a meeting of HPCC member groups. One topic of discussion was the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC). The CCAC was created after the Port of Houston Authority Sunset Review in 2013. Public health advocates had asked for representation on the Port Commission itself, with the addition of a new seat representing community interests. That recommendation was rejected by the state legislature, although certain other reforms were implemented. After the sunset review was complete, some advocates continued to call for more representation of community interests at the port. Longtime port community advocate Sen. John Whitmire joined this call, asking the new Port of Houston Authority Chairman Janice Longoria to act. Chairman Longoria responded by creating the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition has had members and allies on the CCAC since it was created. Although we appreciated the move, in the years following we have not seen the CCAC be an effective body advocating for public health protections. This is in part due to the manner in which it was created and operates. In order to improve the CCAC, we have compiled a list of recommendations:

 

  1. The existence of the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC) should be codified in statute, regulation, or by memorandum.
  2. The chairs on the CCAC should be designated for particular constituencies or neighborhoods, including the chair already designated for the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.
  3. The representative for each chair should be selected by each corresponding constituency, via a process of their choosing.
  4. The CCAC should have the authority to set agenda items for CCAC meetings.
  5. CCAC members should be given time to make presentations at CCAC meetings. Port Houston should be required to formally respond to any presentations and answer any questions posed.
  6. The CCAC should have the authority to make information requests and pose questions to Port Houston. The Port Commission should be required to respond.
  7. The CCAC should be given monthly opportunities to report on its work to the Port Commission.
  8. The CCAC should be able to recommend studies to be conducted by Port Houston. If Port Houston declines to undertake a recommended study, it should clearly state its rationale for doing so.

To her credit, Chairman Longoria did implement #7 above at the request of one of the CCAC members (a t.e.j.a.s. employee). But for the most part, the CCAC still functions as an isolated body whose members serve at the pleasure of the chairman. We believe that the above reforms would make the body a more effective advocate for portside community residents. This would lead to a port that took better care of its neighbors and served as a better steward of public health and the environment.

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Texas cities are stepping up to take on the climate change crisis.  Austin was an early leader, but now San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the game too.  Instead of waiting for leadership at the federal or state level, these cities are taking action.

Taking action at the city level makes a lot of sense.  Cities are responsible for over 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.  When cities choose to act, they are often able to reduce emissions quicker than federal or state governments.  Cities can tailor solutions to address specific local challenges, while also stepping up to support broader changes that are needed.

So how do cities take action?  Any policy or program that reduces emissions is helpful, but the most effective way for cities to reduce emissions as much as possible is to develop a community-wide climate action plan.

There are several steps to this process:

  • GHG Inventory: Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory, following the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This is an accounting of all emissions that the community is responsible for.  At least scope 1 and 2 emissions should be included, and ideally scope 3 emissions as well.
  • GHG Reduction Goal: Establish a goal for reducing greenhouse gases. Establishing interim goals is helpful.
  • Stakeholder Process: Establish a community stakeholder process to develop recommendations. This should include outreach to the community at large.
  • Identify Actions: Identify actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the community to meet the goal. Estimate expected emissions reductions, cost and time needed to implement for each action item.  Identify co-benefits.  Prioritize the list based on these factors.
  • Schedule Reports & Updates: Establish a schedule for progress reports and updating the climate action plan.
  • Release Draft Plan: Release the draft climate action plan for public comment.
  • Adopt Plan: Adopt the climate action plan.
  • Implement: Begin implementation of the plan, starting with priority items.
  • Report & Update: Report on progress made, as well as challenges at least as frequently as scheduled. Update the plan as scheduled, or more frequently, if needed.

 

Let’s take a look at where each of these Texas cities are in this process: (more…)

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A packed room at the Roswell Public Meeting on the Holtec proposal. (Photo by Karen Hadden)

UPDATE 5/11/2018

Since the meeting in Carlsbad, NM, because of  public pressure, the NRC has both scheduled two additional public meetings and extended the public comment period from May 29th to July 30th.

  1. The May 21 meeting will be held at the Gallup Downtown Conference Center, 204 W. Coal Ave., in Gallup.

(UPDATE:  30 people spoke in at the Gallup public meeting all but one (a HOLEC employee) spoke in opposition to the proposed site)

  1. The May 22 meeting will be held at the Crown Plaza Hotel, 1901 University Blvd., in Albuquerque.

(UPDATE: Over 200 people show up to the Albuquerque NRC meeting. 69 people spoke in total— 63 shared their opposition. Only 6 people spoke in favor of it.)

Both meetings are scheduled to run from 6-9 p.m., with an open house beginning at 5 p.m., for members of the public to meet informally with NRC staff.

You can still submit a comment letter until July 30th to the NRC from our action page.  This letter is editable by you.  We are still hearing that the NRC site is working intermittently so this is an alternative way for you to comment on this proposed site.  Even if you live outside New Mexico but may be concerned that high-level radioactive waste might be transported though your community from the 104 nuclear power plants around the country to the proposed site, you should voice your concerns.

 

UPDATE:

  • A second public meeting was held Wednesday night in Hobbs, NM.
  • The third public meeting was held Thusday night in Carlsbad, NM
  • Due to conversations between citizens and the NRC after the Roswell meeting about the issues  submitting comments via the NRC website, the NRC provided this email address as an alternative way for comment submission – [email protected]

At the May 1 meeting in Hobbs, NM, 33 signed up and spoke in opposition to the Holtec proposed site.  Only 13 spoke in favor of which there was a spokesperson from Holtec and one from ELEA.  Others included the usual suspects (a few local state legislators and someone from the Chamber of Commerce as well as Xcel Energy, which owns two nuclear plants – Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant near Monticello, Minnesota, and Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant near Red Wing, Minnesota and currently stores the spent fuel from these nuclear plants on site in independent spent fuel storage installations. (ISFSIs).  Both plants have licenses that run through 2033/34 and 2030, respectively and are probably hoping  to have off site storage available when the plants are decommissioned).  There is one final public meeting in Carlsbad this evening.

At the final May 3rd meeting in Carlsbad, NM, 34 citizens spoke in opposition and turned in 1300 comment letters opposing the siting of the Holtec proposed interim high level radioactive waste dump in New Mexico.  Twenty seven spoke in favor of the proposal.  One of these was pro-Yucca dump, pro-WIPP, and pro-nuke, but skeptical of Holtec.

In addition to the public comments on the proposal itself, at least one individual has pointed out issues with the process.

Specifically, the NRC has not had information in Spanish available before the hearings in this highly Hispanic, Low English Proficiency (LEP) area. This has been the subject of not only a Title VI complaint to EPA, a recent complaint to NMED, numerous comments on various facilities to NMED and to NRC as well as litigation. There is at least a 15 year history outlining the need for information in Spanish in this area. NRC should have been aware of this before even considering licensing a facility in Southeastern New Mexico and certainly before starting the public process for the Holtec application.
Questions were asked about Spanish outreach and public notice done by NRC in the state about these hearings and the licensing process for this facility? Was there any public notice in a language other than English? Without enhanced public notice in Spanish (and possibly in various Native languages as well as oral notice in communities where this is the primary way of communicating), a significant portion of the people of New Mexico have been left out of the public process for this facility.  At this time there has been no detailed response from NRC to these questions.
A large portion of the people of the state will be impacted by the transportation phase of this project.  More than 60% of the people of the state are Hispanic, Native American or African American and 35.7% of the population speaks a language other than English in the home. These New Mexicans should not have been eliminated from the public process for this facility.

Yesterday, April 30th, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hosted an open house in Roswell, New Mexico on a controversial high-level radioactive waste storage project, proposed for a site between Hobbs and Carlsbad.  The open house was followed by a public meeting which included an opportunity for public comment.  There were over 95 in attendance, filling the room to capacity, causing the local fire marshall to close the doors to additional attendance.  Community members from around the state showed up to oppose the storing of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste in southeast New Mexico.

There are many reasons for opposing this dangerous plan and 36 spoke in opposition citing various reasons for their objections that included:

  • Concerns about the health, safety and financial impacts of this controversial high-level radioactive waste storage project on surrounding communities and communities along the transportation routes.
  • Impact of potential contamination on local dairy and pecan farms, tourism and oil and gas industries that employ more than 15,000 people for a project promising just 55 local jobs
  • It’s a train wreck waiting to happen. Over 10,000 overweight rail cars would carry this waste to the site, and the waste would likely go very near the Carlsbad sinkhole
  • The federal government may never find a permanent place for this waste, potentially leaving it here forever in a site designed for temporary storage.
  • This isn’t our waste, and we didn’t get the power from the nuclear reactors that produced it. Those near existing reactors know the risks and don’t want the waste. Why should we take it?

There were only 6 who spoke up in support of the proposal, one was a Holtec spokesperson and the other five were University of New Mexico nuclear engineering students.

Holtec seeks “interim” storage of the nation’s deadly high-level radioactive waste, which they anticipate will be for 120 years.  An unsafe de facto permanent dump site could be created and the waste might never move again if there is no political will or inadequate funding in the future for a permanent waste site. The company plans to transport 10,000 canisters of irradiated reactor fuel rods from around the county and store them near the surface in New Mexico, inviting disaster and creating massive risks. This is more waste than has been created by all U.S. nuclear reactors to date.

“There is everything to lose with this plan to bring the nation’s high-level radioactive waste to New Mexico. The risks to health, safety, security and financial well-being are immense and people need to act now to stop this massive mistake that imperils people in New Mexico as well as along transport routes throughout the country,” said Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, who has been working with local opposition groups for months opposing this application and a similar one just across the border in Andrews County, Texas.

There are two other opportunities for New Mexican citizens to comment in a public forum

  • Tuesday, May 1st Hobbs 7-10 pm
    Lea County Event Center, 5101 N. Lovington Highway
  • Thursday, May 3rd Carlsbad 7-10 pm
    Eddy County Fire Service, 1400 Commerce Street

In addition, comments can also be submitted at www.regulations.gov, Docket ID NRC-2018-0052; or by mail, to May Ma, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN–7– A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555– 0001.

Some folks have been having problems submitting their comments through the NRC website, but we have a request in to NRC to get an email address where folks can submit their comments directly.  That update is at the top of this post.

You can visit these websites for more information on High-level radioactive waste:

  1. www.NoNuclearWaste.org
  2. www.nuclearNewMexico.com/nuclearwaste,
  3. www.nirs.org, www.beyondnuclear.org

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