Dec 7, 2016

Plastic substitutes and other breakthroughs from 25 years of green chemistry via @bruce1971

(The Guardian - Bruce Watson) This year, green chemistry celebrates its 25th birthday. The science of finding more sustainable and less toxic chemicals was once a revolutionary idea, but has since become a part of the consumer product landscape. From removing carcinogens from furniture to banning ineffective antibacterial chemicals, the struggle to create a healthier and more sustainable chemical landscape continues to attract widespread attention.

Customers – and companies – are taking note. A recent survey estimates that the global market for green chemicals is on track to grow from $11bn in 2015 to $100bn in 2020. In North America, the numbers are expected to go from $3bn to $20bn in the same period.

Petroleum made in a lab?

Martin Mulvihill, co-founder and former director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and co-founder of Safer Made, a venture capital fund that invests in the latest green chemistry technologies.

"One of the most influential trends has been the move to bio-based feedstocks for chemistry. Historically, chemistry has relied on petroleum based products, which means that we have to extract petroleum from the ground, transport it and process it. As therecent problems with fracking show, that's expensive and environmentally damaging.

"When we're done with these products, they don't biodegrade; instead, they pile up in landfills and in the ocean. It's interesting that people think that our leftover plastic and other products are just going to disappear: fossils fuels are the remains of organic matter that have managed to stay around for millions of years. What makes us think that [plastics] are going to go away just because we're done with them?

"Scientists have begun using microorganisms to biosynthesize materials, which means that, rather than using chemicals that come from oil, we're growing our chemicals in the lab. In the future, it's entirely possible that the basic building blocks of our chemistry will come from biomass, including food and crop waste. In other words, this biotechnology revolution will help us use our waste to make new materials.

"This is one of the most exciting new areas of chemistry, and it provides us with an opportunity to design safer and more sustainable chemicals. Companies like Amyris, BioAmber and Elevance are already commercializing this process, and the next generation of chemists are already beginning to reach for biosynthesized materials, rather than petroleum based ones. It's a vast change, and it's transforming the way we develop and manufacture products."

A BPA-free future

David Levine is the co-founder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council, a coalition of business organizations dedicated to building a more sustainable, less toxic economy.

"The biggest advancement in green chemistry has been a shift in consciousness and practice. The public has become aware of the need for and value of green chemistry and companies have become aware of the economic opportunities that it offers – as well as the danger of not taking advantage of them, which the 2015 report by the American Sustainable Business Council, GC3 and Trucost demonstrate.

"Nalgene's bottle recall in 2008 is a perfect example. The presence of BPA in plastic bottles became a major media story and captured the public's interest. The public demanded action on numerous products, from baby bottles to the water bottles that college students were toting around. Within a year, many companies were changing their production to cut BPA out of their products. And those that didn't watched their reputations – and their market share – evaporate.

"Today, you walk into every store and see 'BPA free' products on the shelves. There are new plants, new advertising, new products. Consumers are demanding products without hazardous chemicals, companies are realizing that they can be responsible, innovate and improve their profits, and regulators and legislators are realizing that they can provide more comprehensive regulations. Green chemistry is providing an opportunity for a stronger economy and a healthier society."

Breathing new life into greenhouse gases

Libby Bernick is senior vice president, North America for Trucost, a research firm that measures the way that companies use natural resources.

"One of the biggest advancements in green chemistry is the growth in manufacturers that are starting to use pollution as a raw material for making their products.

"This is incredibly significant: according to the World Economic Forum, the biggest risk currently facing our society is its failure to mitigate or adapt to climate change. We're continuing to produce greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, which are leading to further climate change that will, in turn, have massive financial implications for the economy.

"But there's another approach that we can take. Instead of looking at methane and carbon dioxide as an inevitable byproduct of manufacturing, companies like Novomerand Newlight are seeing it as an opportunity. They're using it to make new products: Newlight makes a price-competitive plastic, and Novomer makes chemicals that can be used to produce anything from diapers to paints. In so doing, both companies are creating new markets and new economic opportunities."

Read on at:

EPA Action Plan Outlines Ways to Improve Safety, Reliability of Nation’s Drinking Water

​(EPA.GOV) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a plan that serves as a national call to action, urging all levels of government, utilities, community organizations, and other stakeholders to work together to increase the safety and reliability of drinking water.

"Ensuring that all Americans have access to safe drinking water is an absolute top priority for EPA," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "We must work collectively to seize opportunities for progress, partnership, and innovation in order to continue to provide our citizens with the safest drinking water in the world."

The plan includes six priority areas and identifies proposed actions for each area:

  • Building capacity for water infrastructure financing and management in disadvantaged, small, and environmental justice communities: Actions include launching a national initiative to promote regional partnerships, reinvigorating training programs for system operators, sharing best practices, and establishing an online water funding portal.
  • Advancing oversight of the Safe Drinking Water Act: Actions include electronic reporting for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance data, releasing triennial EPA reviews of state programs, and developing indicators to identify troubled systems.
  • Strengthening source water protection and resilience of drinking water supplies: Actions include updating and acting on source water vulnerability assessments, building collaborative local partnerships for watershed protection, developing an initiative to enhance community resilience to climate and extreme weather events, launching source water monitoring pilot projects, and promoting water efficiency and reuse.
  • Addressing unregulated contaminants: Actions include strengthening the effectiveness of the health advisory program, prioritizing work on contaminants that pose the most significant risk, and promoting the development of low-cost and innovative technologies that may remove a broad range of contaminants.
  • Improving transparency, public education, and risk communication on drinking water safety: Actions include strengthening transparency and public education, developing indicators to enhance how data is presented on the internet, and improving risk communication tools.
  • Reducing lead risks: Actions include the consideration of critical options in revising the Lead and Copper Rule and continuing work to improve implementation of the current rule through enhanced oversight, identifying best practices on lead service line replacement, and revising guidance for schools.

The plan reflects input from state, local, and tribal government officials; drinking water utilities; community groups; and environmental organizations. While EPA and partners have already begun to take some actions, others will require additional resources and further stakeholder engagement. EPA recognizes that partnership and collaboration across all levels of government, utilities, the private sector, and the public will be essential to the success of the plan.

In tandem with the development of the plan, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) undertook a study on science and technology for drinking water safety. The PCAST's recommendations complement and support EPA's plan.

Today, nearly every American depends on 152,000 public drinking water systems and consume more than one billion glasses of tap water a day. EPA has established drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants, and compliance data show that more than 90 percent of the nation's water systems consistently meet those standards. While America's drinking water remains among the safest in the world, the drinking water sector faces a growing array of challenges including aging infrastructure, limited funding and management capacity, emerging contaminants, pollution of source water, and the impacts from drought and other climate events. These challenges can be particularly acute in small and disadvantaged communities.

Learn more about the plan and the PCAST report.

Will California Climate Regulations Trump a Weak EPA? via @JessicaHrdcstle

(EnvironmentalLeader -Jessica Lyons Hardcastle) President-elect Donald Trump is expected to announce his pick to lead the EPA any day now. And assuming Trumpsticks to his campaign promises, the new EPA administrator will be spending more time dismantling all of President Obama's climate rules — such as the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rules — than enforcing the nation's air and water pollution regulations.

Meanwhile, California regulators are moving ahead with the most ambitious climate targets in North America.

On Friday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released its draft plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The state plans to achieve these steep carbon cuts through a series of actions including low- and zero-emissions vehicles, cap-and-trade regulations, waste diversion from landfills and water conservation, and possibly a carbon tax.

"Now more than ever, the nation — and the world — are looking to California for leadership on climate change and air quality," said CARB chair Mary D. Nichols in a statement. "Denial is not an option. We must plan, invest and transform."

Days earlier, CARB rolled out its revised draft of the state's proposed short-lived climate pollutant strategy, aka the cow farts regulation. Senate Bill 1383, recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, requires the state to reduce super pollutants and targets a 40 percent methane emissions reduction below 2013 levels by 2030. The revised draft of the short-lived climate pollutant strategy outlines how regulators can work with the dairy industry and other stakeholders to make this happen.

Why should businesses outside of California care about any of this? The short answer is that many companies do business in California and other states so greenhouse gas emissions from their products and services sold outside of the golden state affect their overall carbon footprint. And despite a more lenient federal EPA under Trump, other states may follow California's lead in enacting tougher climate rules.

"All the US EPA does is set a standard," said attorney William Anaya, an officer in the environmental litigation group at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, in an interview. "States can be more stringent if they wish and they are — California being one of them — all up and down the West Coast. California will continue to be a leader, telling the rest of the world how to do that calculation: take less raw materials, create less waste and come up with more finished goods."

Dairy farms and other agriculture interests outside of California may face tougher methane emissions reductions under the short-lived climate pollutant strategy, said Todd Palmer, practice group chair of the environmental & natural resources and energy law practices at Michael Best.

"California's plan will likely culminate in a requirement that California dairies install anaerobic digestion systems [to reduce methane emissions,]" Palmer said in an interview. "Dairies located outside of the state may have installed anaerobic digestions systems on a voluntary basis to manage their manure and many of those non-California dairies have been participating in the California cap-and-trade program."

Palmer's clients include several of these non-California dairies. They participate in the state's cap-and-trade program because they receive carbon credits for implementing CARB-approved emission reduction equipment such as anaerobic digesters.

"Anaerobic digesters that currently exist outside of California will likely be grandfathered in," Palmer said. "But in other states when a dairy is looking at the capital expense and the operations and maintenance associated with an anaerobic digesters, one of the more significant revenue streams would be the credits from the cap and trade program. If those are no longer an option, that may affect whether or not those out-of-state digesters get built."

But it is not all bad news, Palmer says. The California short-lived climate pollutant strategy also sets aside state money in the form of grants and incentives to develop anaerobic digestion systems as well as infrastructure to pipe biogas from methane — a valuable low-carbon transportation fuel — throughout the state.

"I've talked to companies that provide services and engineering and products in that space, and they've been watching the development of California and that program because they see it as a market opportunity, a growth plan," he said.

Attorney Chris Carr, who chairs Morrison & Foerster's environmental and energy group, said he expects to see greater interest in emissions regulations and clean energy development at the state level once Trump takes office.

"We also anticipate there will likely be a raucous battle in the federal courts over the legality of strict state requirements, particularly when those requirements implicate interstate commerce," he said in an interview.

California's low-carbon fuel standard, for example, which was created under California's first-in-the-nation global warming law, AB 32, was previously challenged in court by big oil and out-of-state ethanol producers. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 upheld the standard, which will reduce the amount of carbon pollution released from fuels sold in California by 10 percent by 2020. A year later, the US Supreme Court today denied petitions from these industry groups to review and reverse the appeals court's decision.

"Ultimately, those who believe their interests adversely effected by California emissions regulation can be expected to try to mount court challenges, whether those regulations involve fuel supply mix, shipping and fleet requirements, or engine standards," Carr said. "Once the vacancy is filled on the US Supreme Court, one should also expect renewed efforts to get the court to review the Ninth Circuit's jurisprudence that has so far blessed California's actions.

Read full by Jessica Lyons Hardcastle at EnvironmentalLeader

S. 2852, OPEN Government Data Act - would direct federal agencies to publish all data they collect in an open format that can be used by any computer.

S. 2852 would direct federal agencies to publish all data they collect in an open format that can be used by any computer. Under the bill, the Office of Management and Budget would establish an inventory of all federal data sets and would direct the General Services Administration to maintain an online interface for all such data. In addition, S. 2852 would rename the Office of Electronic Government as the Office of the Federal Chief Financial Officer.

Information from selected agencies suggest that most of the provisions of the bill would codify Executive Order 13642 and other executive branch policies that set the framework for agencies to promote openness and interoperability in information management. That executive order requires agencies to standardize data sets and to make them publicly available. A website ( has been established to share this government information with the general public. CBO expects that implementing S. 2852 would have no significant effect on spending because agencies effectively are already working to implement the requirements of the bill. 


EPA to Publish Final Formaldehyde Emissions Rule

(PAINT.ORG) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon publish in the Federal Register a final rule that limits formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products and establishes a process by which companies will use third parties to certify compliance with the formaldehyde emission standards. EPA's announcement follows a four-month long delay since its pre-publication notice on July 27. The pre-publication notice was mostly consistent with 2009 limits that California's Air Resources Board began to phase in. California's limits range from 0.05 part per million (ppm) to 0.13 ppm, depending on the product covered.

According to the agency, the final rule addresses formaldehyde, which can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat following short-term, relatively low exposures. EPA says elevated exposures may cause some cancers.

One year after the rule's publication, composite wood products that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured, or imported into the United States will need to be labeled as Title VI compliant under the Toxic Substances Act (TSCA). These products include hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particleboard as well as household and other finished goods containing these products.

The Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products Act of 2010 established emission standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products and directed EPA to finalize a rule on implementing and enforcing a number of provisions covering composite wood products.

Formaldehyde may be released from adhesives that are used in a wide range of wood products, such as some furniture, flooring, cabinets, bookcases, and building materials including plywood and wood panels. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause adverse health effects including eye, nose and throat irritation, other respiratory symptoms, and cancer.

EPA is setting testing requirements to ensure that products comply with those standards, establishing eligibility requirements for third-party certifiers, and establishing eligibility requirements for accreditation bodies to be recognized by EPA that will accredit the third-party certifiers. The new rule includes certain exemptions for products made with ultra-low formaldehyde or no-added formaldehyde resins and new requirements for product labeling, recordkeeping, and enforcement provisions.

Additional provisions, including recordkeeping requirements, apply to importers, distributors and retailers, which includes dealers selling recreational vehicles, mobile homes, and building materials.

There is, however, some variation between the national rule and California's, one of which is that EPA requires recordkeeping for three years compared to California's two-year requirement. EPA is also requiring importers to provide certification of their compliance with the rule within two years, and the agency requires manufacturers to disclose emissions test results to their direct purchasers upon request.

Additionally, companies that make or import laminated hardwood plywood products are not automatically exempt, as they are from California's requirement. Under EPA's final rule, while some laminators will qualify for exemptions, others must comply within seven years.

National Safety Council accepting nominations for Green Cross Awards until Dec. 9

National Safety Council

The nonprofit National Safety Council, an OSHA Alliance participant, is accepting nominations for its Green Cross Awards for Safety, which recognize people and organizations who have contributed to the advancement of safety. NSC will accept nominations through Dec. 9 in the following three categories:Safety ExcellenceSafety Innovation, and Safety Advocate.

OSHA issues recommended practices to promote workplace safety and health programs in construction

Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction

As a complement to its recommended practices to help employers in general industry establish safety and health programs in their workplaces, OSHA has released Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction. The recommendations may be particularly helpful to small- and medium-sized contractors who may not have safety and health specialists on staff. The goal of safety and health programs is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths as well as the financial difficulties these events can cause for workers, their families and their employers. For more information, see the news release.

Ohio worker's death highlights doubling of trench collapse fatalities nationwide in 2016

Trenching Injuries and Deaths 2012-2016: 2012: 8 deaths, 2 injuries; 2013: 15 deaths, 2 injuries; 2014: 11 deaths, 13 injuries; 2015: 11 deaths, 16 injuries; 2016 (YTD): 23 deaths, 12 injuries

Twenty-three workers have been killed and 12 others injured in trench collapses so far in 2016 – an alarming increase from the previous year. "There is no excuse," said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA assistant secretary. "These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know."

Among the victims was a 33-year-old employee, crushed to death this summer as he dug a 12-foot trench for KRW Plumbing LLC of Ohio. An OSHA investigation found that KRW failed to protect its workers from the dangers of trench collapses. The company was issued two willful and two serious violations, with proposed penalties of $274,359.

OSHA's trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, with soil and other materials kept at least two feet from the edge of trench. OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations with the goal of increasing hazard awareness and employer compliance with safety standards. For more information, read thenews release.

New final rule updates walking-working surfaces standards and establishes personal fall protection requirements

OSHA issued a final rule Nov. 17 updating its 44-year old general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standard to protect workers from slip, trip, and fall hazards. The rule also increases consistency in safety and health standards for people working in both general and construction industries. OSHA estimates the final rule will prevent more than 5,800 injuries a year. The rule takes effect Jan. 17, 2017.

"The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries," said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. The rule's most significant update is allowing employers to select the fall protection system that works best for them, choosing from a range of accepted options. For more information, read the news release

Dec 1, 2016

DHS Cyber Alert:Avalanche (crimeware-as-a-service infrastructure)

Systems Affected :Microsoft Windows


"Avalanche" refers to a large global network hosting infrastructure used by cyber criminals to conduct phishing and malware distribution campaigns and money mule schemes. The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is releasing this Technical Alert to provide further information about Avalanche.


Cyber criminals utilized Avalanche botnet infrastructure to host and distribute a variety of malware variants to victims, including the targeting of over 40 major financial institutions. Victims may have had their sensitive personal information stolen (e.g., user account credentials). Victims' compromised systems may also have been used to conduct other malicious activity, such as launching denial-of-service (DoS) attacks or distributing malware variants to other victims' computers.

In addition, Avalanche infrastructure was used to run money mule schemes where criminals recruited people to commit fraud involving transporting and laundering stolen money or merchandise.

Avalanche used fast-flux DNS, a technique to hide the criminal servers, behind a constantly changing network of compromised systems acting as proxies.

The following malware families were hosted on the infrastructure:

  • Windows-encryption Trojan horse (WVT) (aka Matsnu, Injector,Rannoh,Ransomlock.P)
  • URLzone (aka Bebloh)
  • Citadel
  • VM-ZeuS (aka KINS)
  • Bugat (aka Feodo, Geodo, Cridex, Dridex, Emotet)
  • newGOZ (aka GameOverZeuS)
  • Tinba (aka TinyBanker)
  • Nymaim/GozNym
  • Vawtrak (aka Neverquest)
  • Marcher
  • Pandabanker
  • Ranbyus
  • Smart App
  • TeslaCrypt
  • Trusteer App
  • Xswkit

Avalanche was also used as a fast flux botnet which provides communication infrastructure for other botnets, including the following:        

  • TeslaCrypt
  • Nymaim
  • Corebot
  • GetTiny
  • Matsnu
  • Rovnix
  • Urlzone
  • QakBot (aka Qbot, PinkSlip Bot)


A system infected with Avalanche-associated malware may be subject to malicious activity including the theft of user credentials and other sensitive data, such as banking and credit card information. Some of the malware had the capability to encrypt user files and demand a ransom be paid by the victim to regain access to those files. In addition, the malware may have allowed criminals unauthorized remote access to the infected computer. Infected systems could have been used to conduct distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.


Users are advised to take the following actions to remediate malware infections associated with Avalanche:

  • Use and maintain anti-virus software – Anti-virus software recognizes and protects your computer against most known viruses. Even though parts of Avalanche are designed to evade detection, security companies are continuously updating their software to counter these advanced threats. Therefore, it is important to keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. If you suspect you may be a victim of an Avalanche malware, update your anti-virus software definitions and run a full-system scan. (See Understanding Anti-Virus Software for more information.)
  • Avoid clicking links in email – Attackers have become very skilled at making phishing emails look legitimate. Users should ensure the link is legitimate by typing the link into a new browser (see Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks for more information).
  • Change your passwords – Your original passwords may have been compromised during the infection, so you should change them. (See Choosing and Protecting Passwords for more information.)
  • Keep your operating system and application software up-to-date – Install software patches so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. You should enable automatic updates of the operating system if this option is available. (See Understanding Patches for more information.)
  • Use anti-malware tools – Using a legitimate program that identifies and removes malware can help eliminate an infection. Users can consider employing a remediation tool. A non-exhaustive list of examples is provided below. The U.S. Government does not endorse or support any particular product or vendor.

          ESET Online Scanner



          McAfee Stinger

          Microsoft Safety Scanner

          Norton Power Eraser


Nov 30, 2016

Lead poisoning is statewide, help is not

Rural communities across the state get less money for lead abatement and education than cities, leaving officials to wonder how much of a priority lead poisoning really is for Michigan.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a handful of grants each year to provide lead abatement services for residents, but because the competition is so fierce, they go to bigger metropolitan areas.

The state Department of Health and Human Services provides lead services to individual homes if high levels of lead are identified, but it does not provide consistent funding to whole communities.

The state health department recently submitted a request for $23.8 million in additional federal funding for the state, but that money will be used first for Flint and then those areas where lead problems are most concentrated, such as Detroit.

"We have to focus our dollars where it's needed most," said Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer for the state  department. "We want to make sure we're putting our resources where they have the most impact."

But officials say they are worried about how this process leaves rural areas to essentially fend for themselves with lead problems that can cause a myriad of serious health effects.

"This is about being more strategic about providing resources," said Tina Reynolds, the health policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council. "There are kids that are lead poisoned statewide, yet there are communities that get more resources than others."

And while it does make sense for more populated areas to receive more funding, a child in Charlevoix should have the same level of care as a child in Flint, Reynolds said, because lead is everywhere.

The lead in most of the state comes from houses built before 1978 that have lead paint. This is much different than the lead in drinking water that brought international attention to Flint.

Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit have secured federal grants but they last only for three years. Cities can't apply for grants until their previous grant period has ended, leaving a potential period when the community loses all funding, Reynolds said.

In Grand Rapids, the $2.9 million federal funding is used to help families enroll in programs to have their homes remediated and cleared of lead, said Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan. Families with lead poisoning are put at the top of the list, and then the money is used to help anyone with high lead levels.

The problem is that applying for grants is difficult and competitive statewide, and this adds to the difficulty rural areas have to secure any sort of federal funding, Haan said.

"HUD's model doesn't really work," he said. "If you live in Sparta or Owosso or a locality where lead isn't concentrated, you probably aren't going to get money from the feds."

In Calhoun County, officials have begun their own lead prevention and education programs without help from the federal government or the state's health department. Instead, they are using general fund dollars to provide care for people with high levels of lead.

"We wanted to increase testing for kids and raise awareness about lead," said Helen Guzzo, a community development specialist in Battle Creek. "We would like a source of state or federal funding to do more remediation that we manage."

Calhoun County's efforts are a way to show the state health department and the federal government they are serious about lead, Reynolds said. But in places where local agencies cannot invest in lead remediation, that lack of priority signals to the state that it doesn't  need to step in.

Reynolds said this is one of the main problems with how funding is distributed. For a community to have a better chance of securing more funding, it must spend money on lead on a local level first, but this poses problems for areas that can't afford it.

"Because lead isn't an essential local health service, it requires communities to dedicate resources from their own general fund," she said. "Some communities can do that and some can't."

Haan, of the Healthy Homes Coalition, said the lack of resources disproportionately hurts rural areas, and until the state makes it a priority, this will continue.

The lack of standards regarding lead in homes adds to the difficulty, he said.

"There should be a set of community standards and expectations that we're providing safe houses," he said. "Our current standard promotes ignorance." Read on at:

Enzyme makes producing biofuels easier

Poplars and other trees can be bred to break down more easily to make biofuel and other products such as paper, according to scientists at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

Their new study found that zip-lignin, an enzyme that indicates the high degradability of plants, is already in most plants.

The center is a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University and other partners. It was established by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The discovery reveals that "nature was already doing what we thought we'd laboriously taught her to do," said John Ralph, a biochemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin

In 2014, the researchers produced a highly degradable poplar by injecting an exotic gene in the lignin, the part in the cell walls that's hard to break down.

The principal motivation for the research is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels that

A microphotograph of zip lignin. Image:Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

A microphotograph of zip lignin. ImageGreat Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

increase the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Ralph said. Another goal is to improve the processes that create more efficient and sustainable fuels and other products.

Steven Karlen, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin and the study's lead author, said the finding is a big step toward achieving those goals.

"Instead of finding exotic genes and transform them into the plants, we can actually breed these trees," Karlen said. "You can find and breed ones that are producing the highest levels of zip-lignin, getting these trees growing higher without GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or anything else. Using trees with high density of this enzyme means they will break down with less toxic chemicals."

Ralph said this research has demonstrated a potential increase in the yield of bio-products by taking advantage of the enzyme. "It takes less time and lower temperature to get the same yield, so even if you do it under the same condition as before, the yield is higher."

The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center has other groups looking at the sustainability of land use and studying how to grow plant-based biomass on marginal and riverfront land.

The center hasn't been looking at the specific effect that zip technology has brought on the field, but according to Karlen, researchers have found that almost all the crops and grasses the groups are studying, have zip-lignin in them.

Karlen said, "By developing this technology, we can increase the value of crops growing in the Midwest.

"A big one on our list is corn–there is lots of corn stover" — meaning the plant's leaves and stalks — "around the Great Lakes area. You can take the stover you need to remove to convert that to liquid fuel, and it doesn't hurt next year's crop," Karlen said.

Read on at:

Toxin kills thousands of birds along Lake Michigan shore

Since 2006, dead birds have been washing up on Lake Michigan beaches.

But this fall has been exceptionally grim, with up to five thousand birds being found dead along the shore.

Researchers are trying to understand what's happening.

IPR's Sam Corden reports....They're walking along a beach in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The typically pristine coast is littered with about two dozen dead birds including scoters, loons, ducks, and more.

Researchers say the birds are dying because of a toxin called avian botulism, which can form on the lake bed under certain conditions.

Standing over a dead duck, Ray describes what he sees, and the procedure that follows.

"So we have a long-tailed duck, and we're going to pick that up away from the shoreline, take it up into the foredune," Ray says. "And then we dig a hole two feet deep, and bury it so that it's away from park visitors and pets and no longer a threat to public health."

Botulism forms when there's a lack of oxygen in the water.

Ray digs a hole to bury a dead bird. Image: Samuel Corden

Ray digs a hole to bury a dead bird. Image: Samuel Corden

For that to happen, it takes a long chain reaction that begins with invasive Zebra and Quagga mussels filtering the water, which increases its clarity.

Williams of Inland Seas explains.

"The mussels are eating all this stuff, and then they produce waste like all living things do, and that waste has all kinds of nutrients in it … lots of nitrogen, lots of phosphorous," Williams says. "And because there's a lot of nutrients at the bottom of the lake, and a lot of sunlight, that means the algae can grow as much as it possibly can."

The native algae thrives on those nutrients and the additional sunlight, growing prolifically over the summer months.

However, living algae poses no issue, and it's not until it dies that it becomes a problem.

Harvey Bootsma is a professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. He says the northern part of Lake Michigan is the perfect place for botulism to thrive.

"One thing that's unique about the north end of the lake, especially in the Sleeping Bear region, is that the bottom of the lake, the lake topography, or what we call bathymetry is quite variable up there," Bootsma says, "so you have a lot of these pockets in the bottom of the lake … little valleys that are formed all over the place."

Read on at:

Widespread Shallow Groundwater Contamination Found in Southwestern Illinois Cave Streams and Springs

Researchers have detected prescription and over-the-counter medications and personal care products in Illinois groundwater, an indication that humans are contaminating water that is vital to aquatic life. This study was funded by the Prairie Research Institute and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center and is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.. ISTC researcher Wei Zheng is a co-author on the paper. Source: Illinois Natural History Survey News, 11/17/16

EPA Names First Chemicals for Review Under New TSCA Legislation

EPA is announcing the first ten chemicals it will evaluate for potential risks to human health and the environment under TSCA reform. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, requires EPA to publish this list by December 19, 2016. These chemicals were drawn from EPA's 2014 TSCA Work Plan, a list of 90 chemicals selected based on their potential for high hazard and exposure as well as other considerations. Source: U.S. EPA, 11/29/16

Nov 29, 2016

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EPA Defends Plan For Nuclear Contamination

​(WATERONLINE.COM)U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy addressed members of the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on November 21 in regards to the agency's attempt at protecting American citizens from nuclear contamination.

In June the agency proposed new guidelines for restricting drinking water after a nuclear incident, partially a response to the disaster at theFukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

In September, the EPA proposed a rule that could allow the public to temporarily drink water containing radioactive contamination in the case of a nuclear emergency and it isn't sitting well with some.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the EPA "thinks it would be acceptable for the public to temporarily drink water containing radioactive contamination at up to thousands of times normal federal safety limits."

Since 2009, the EPA has been working on drinking water guidelines as part of a broader set of recommendations in case radioactive material is ever discharged into the environment.

ThinkProgess reported that "during a radiological emergency, radioactive material could be released into the rivers, lakes, and streams used by public water suppliers." What the EPA is proposing is a "non-regulatory" guidance that authorities can use "to protect residents from experiencing the harmful effects from radiation in drinking water following an emergency."

The agency's Draft Protective Action Guide (PAG) advises officials on how to react to "a nuclear meltdown or a dirty bomb, a weapon that combines conventional explosives such as dynamite with radioactive material."

McCarthy's appearance at the National Press Club was, according to NBC Bay Area, the first publicly-made comments about questions surrounding the new proposal of allowing higher levels of radiation in drinking water.

McCarthy told members "that there are greater concerns over radiation today," adding, "We have more at issue right now in terms of radiation, we have the little bombs that can happen."

The 2009 PAG lists 107 radioactive materials, while the most current lists only three. For each material, the guide lists a maximum level. Upon reaching that level, government agencies or rescue crews are responsible for providing bottled water or evacuating residents.

NBC reported that the overall worry is stemming from radioactive materials that are "decaying." This means that the materials are "emitting particles, gamma rays or electrons." The resulting radiation can change the chemical balance of cells or change DNA, that can lead to a host of health concerns that include "birth defects, cancer, and in large enough doses — death."

Before the EPA released its new document, agencies relied on the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 for what was considered to be acceptable radiation levels in drinking water after emergencies.

Opponents of the proposal, including the New York attorney general and environmental groups, stated in September that the initiative represented a "drastic departure from normal protection limits and could endanger people's health," per The Wall Street Journal.

"The upshot really is that the [nuclear] industry really wants to be able to release more radioactivity and not be responsible for it," Diane D'Arrigo, a project director at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, told ThinkProgress. "This is really a big loss."

McCarthy insured those in attendance that the radioactivity should not affect the water being drunk every day.

"I don't want anyone to think that we are changing our standards for drinking water, that is not the case," McCarthy said. "What we are trying to do is figure out how to actually start transitioning from a case where everybody is in their house and hunkered down, and can't drink drinking water to being able to understand what exposures — in a temporary way — would allow life to continue."

For similar stories visit Water Online's Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Ohio EPA to Define Paint and Related Waste as ‘Universal Waste’

On Nov. 21, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the official notice of its proposed Universal Waste Regulations to define paint and paint-related waste (PPRW) as universal waste. Over the past year, ACA's Ohio Paint Council has been working with the Ohio Manufacturers' Association and Ohio EPA to develop universal waste regulations for PPRW.

In advocating for this proposed rule, ACA underscored to Ohio EPA 1) the environmental benefits that would result from classifying PPRW as universal waste; 2) how classifying PPRW as universal waste would create better facility management; and 3) provided specific examples of why classifying PPRW as universal waste will alleviate regulatory burdens, costs, and encourage more recycling and reuse.

ACA hopes this new regulation will serve as a model that can now be used to promulgate analogous regulations in other interested states. Currently, only Texas and New Jersey have universal waste rules for paint and paint-related waste.

ACA has long maintained that paint and paint-related waste satisfy the criteria for designating a new universal waste. Paint is used by a wide range of different manufacturing industries and establishments, and is not exclusive to a specific industry. Paint and paint-related waste does not pose a significant risk when accumulated and transported by manufacturers, establishments, and other users. ACA also stressed that designation as a universal waste will promote the proper recycling or disposal of the hazardous waste and divert it from non-hazardous waste management systems.

ACA has also noted that including both paint and paint-related waste is very important as certain materials are not incorporated into the actual product itself, but are nonetheless critical for paint application and should be listed a long with paint.

ACA will be submitting comments to Ohio EPA by the Dec. 21 comment deadline.

More information on Ohio's proposed Universal Waste Regulations is available here.

EPA Releases Final Rule on Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements

​(PAINT.ORG)​ On Oct. 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the pre-publication copy of its Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements final regulation, which amends the regulations governing hazardous waste generators under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Many ACA companies are regulated under RCRA. The final rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks.

After consolidating the feedback from the regulated community, states and other stakeholders, EPA developed a proposal it says will improve the entire hazardous waste generator program to strengthen environmental protection while ensuring businesses have the flexibility and certainty they need to successfully operate. ACA had submitted comments in response to the proposed rule almost a year ago, on Dec. 24, 2015 (see article). ACA, along with many other industries, cautioned that many of EPA's proposed changes, while intended to improve clarity and flexibility, will actually add unnecessary burdens, including recordkeeping, labeling and notification, as well as confusion for hazardous waste generators, with little benefit to human health or the environment.

Final Rule
According to EPA, the rule finalizes a much-needed update to the hazardous waste generator regulations to make the rules "easier to understand, facilitate better compliance, provide greater flexibility in how hazardous waste is managed, and close important gaps in the regulations."

In addition to finalizing key flexibilities, the rule enhances the safety of facilities, employees, and the general public by improving hazardous waste risk communication and ensuring that emergency management requirements meet today's needs. Further, EPA is finalizing a number of clarifications without increasing burden including a reorganization of the hazardous waste generator regulations so that all of the generator regulations are in one place.

According to EPA, the final rule includes approximately 60 changes to the hazardous waste generator regulations. Some examples of the changes in the final rule include the following:

  • Allowing very small quantity generators (VSQGs) to send hazardous waste to a large quantity generator (LQG) that is under the control of the same person and consolidate it there before sending it on to management at a RCRA-designated facility, provided certain conditions are met.
  • Allowing a VSQG or a small quantity generator (SQG) to maintain its existing generator category in the case of an episodic event that would otherwise bump the generator into a more stringent generator regulatory category.
  • Requiring periodic re-notification for SQGs every four years (SQGs only notify once under the current federal system). States with more frequent re-notifications can retain their existing requirements.
  • Improving risk communication by revising the regulations for labeling and marking of containers and tanks to indicate the hazards of the hazardous waste contained inside.
  • Replacing the phrase "conditionally exempt small quantity generator" with the phrase "very small quantity generator" to be consistent with the other two generator categories—large quantity generators and small quantity generators.
  • Reorganizing the hazardous waste generator regulations by moving VSQG regulations from § 261.5 into 40 CFR part 262, where the regulations for SQGs and LQGs are located, and by moving many of the generator regulations that are currently located in other parts of the hazardous waste standards into part 262 to replace the current lists of cross references.
  • Revising the regulations for completing the RCRA biennial report to be consistent with the current instructions distributed with the form.
  • Revising generator regulations to do with closure, waste determinations, submitting contingency plans, and other emergency preparedness and prevention areas.
  • In addition to the above, making technical corrections to inadvertent errors in the regulations, obsolete programs, and unclear citations.

EPA is not finalizing certain provisions it proposed, responding to adverse public comments. These include documentation of non-hazardous waste determinations; maintaining hazardous waste determinations until the facility closes; notification to the state or EPA of closure of a waste accumulation unit at a facility; requiring labeling hazardous waste units with the contents of the container; certain revisions to the drip pad requirements; and documentation of weekly inspections. ACA opposed many of these amendments in the proposed rule.

The rule will be effective six (6) months after the date it is published in the Federal Register. For non-authorized RCRA states (Alaska, Iowa, the Indian Nations, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, N. Mariana and US Virgin Islands), the rule will go into effect on that 6-month effective date. RCRA authorized states will have to adopt rules and become authorized for the new provisions.  These states are only required to adopt the provisions in this final rule that are more stringent than the current RCRA regulations.

EPA will be hosting two webinars open to the public to discuss the final rule in the upcoming months. The webinars will be held:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 2:00 pm
  • Monday, Dec. 5 at 2:00 pm

Register for the webinars at

Click here to access EPA's fact sheet about the final rule; here to access EPA's FAQs.