MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-12-11

US Update

11th December 2006

As California introduces yet another measure designed to reduce minerals-related pollution (this time from deadly hexavalent chromium emissions), Bush's EPA continues striking out in a contrary direction.

It's "reviewing" air pollution standards in a manner which critics say will increase the opportunity for biased political (pro-indsutry) decision-making.

And it's contemplating removing lead from the list of forbidden pollutants - apparently because recent controls have reduced lead poisoning dramatically.

US Tweaks Pollution Rule Review; Green Groups Balk

PlanetArk US

11th December 2006

NEW YORK - The US government has streamlined the way it reviews and sets air pollution standards, officials said on Thursday, but environmental and health advocates warned the change may increase the influence of political appointees at the expense of scientists.

The move comes as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is weighing whether to remove lead from its list of air pollutants. Every five years, the EPA reviews its listing of six major air pollutants including ozone and particulate matter. For about 30 years, the Clean Air Act has required an independent committee of agency scientists and outside experts to review the listing. The committee then submitted its recommendations to the agency for review.

The EPA will now replace the review with a more narrowly focused policy assessment. It says this process will connect the agency's scientific assessment and the judgments the agency's administrator must make in air pollutant regulation decisions.

"EPA is committed to a timely and transparent process that uses the most up-to-date science available," EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock said on a teleconference. "Everyone has found the current process is inefficient and current delays are unacceptable ." The new process will "separate out those scientific judgments that scientists and staff scientists ... would make, from those judgments that policy makers would make," said Peacock. He said the new process would make scientific and policy assessments more transparent.

But environmentalists and health advocates said the new process will give more power to political appointees, who had previously weighed the science only at the end of the process.

"One of the (EPA's) purposes of changing this process has been to involve the political decisions far earlier than they ever have been before," Janice Nolen, director of national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association, said in a telephone interview. "Consequently it's really going to make it harder to know what the science is versus what the politics are."

Frank O'Donnell, president of Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Clean Air Watch said it would also open up the process to more influence from industry lobbyist, such as the battery industry which asked the EPA last summer to take lead off the list of air pollutants.

This week, the EPA said it will weigh the removal of lead from the list of pollutants. The agency said its review on ozone, which is ongoing, will not be affected by the process change.

Story by Timothy Gardner


US Mulls Removing Lead from List of Pollutants

PlanetArk US

8th December 2006

NEW YORK - US environmental regulators are considering removing lead, a heavy metal linked to learning problems in children, from a list of regulated pollutants because past rules have greatly reduced levels of the toxin.

An Environmental Protection Agency staff paper released on Tuesday said the agency would evaluate the status of lead as an air pollutant and "assess whether the revocation of the standard is an appropriate option for the Administrator to consider."

The EPA said that from 1980 to 2005 the national annual lead concentrations have dropped more than 90 percent. Lead levels in air have mostly fallen because it was banned as a gasoline additive starting in the 1970s. Auto makers had asked for the ban because it damaged catalytic converters.

Criteria pollutants on the National Ambient Air Quality list are reviewed every five years under the Clean Air Act. Now one of the leading emitters of lead pollution is the battery industry.

An environmentalist said the EPA was pressured to review the status of lead as a pollutant by industry.

"The EPA would be cutting a big sweetheart deal for the lead smelter industry if they revoked the listing," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Clean Air Watch. He said the lead assessment was an example of the EPA subordinating the expertise of agency scientists.

EPA officials could not be immediately reached.

In a letter last July to the EPA, industry group the Battery Council International urged the agency to "delete lead from the criteria pollutants."

A US lawmaker also derided the EPA for considering the revocation of the lead listing.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, US Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said: "I am writing to urge you to renounce this dangerous proposal immediately. At a time when the public health impacts of environmental pollution are becoming better understood and our reason for concern grows, this announcement by EPA is particularly misdirected."

EPA expects to release potential policy options on lead for the agency's administrator to consider next summer.

Story by Timothy Gardner


California Curbs Emissions from Chrome Plating Process


8th December 2006

The California Air Resources Board, ARB, Thursday adopted new regulations that will reduce emissions of hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen released during the chrome plating and anodizing processes.

Identified by the ARB as a toxic air contaminant in 1986, hexavalent chromium is a known human carcinogen with no known level of exposure considered safe. It is one of the most toxic chemicals ARB has identified.

Inhalation of hexavalent chromium in the workplace causes lung and nasal cancers, respiratory irritation, nasal and skin ulcerations and lesions, perforation of the nasal septum, and allergic reactions including dermatitis and asthma.

"Hexavalent chromium is an especially potent toxic air contaminant so the measures the board adopted are very stringent," said ARB Chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer. "This issue is especially important to the communities near these businesses."

The regulations require that chrome plating or anodizing businesses reduce their hexavalent chromium emissions to the fullest extent achievable by technology.

New businesses will not be allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of residential or mixed use areas. All currently operating businesses will be required to apply emission controls that ensure maximum cancer risk reduction.

In addition, all facilities must implement housekeeping measures to diminish contaminated dust.

Employees responsible for compliance with California's regulation must attend ARB staff-conducted training every two years. And the regulation contains provisions that prohibit the sale of electroplating equipment to untrained people. Once implemented, cancer risks near chrome plating businesses would be reduced by up to 85 percent, according to the ARB.

These regulations are in addition to other ARB hexavalent chromium control measures. Earlier the ARB addressed chrome plating and chromic acid anodizing in 1988 and 1998, cooling towers in 1989, motor vehicle and mobile equipment-coating in 2001, and thermal spraying in 2004.

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