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05/21/2019 - Federal pipeline safety regulators issue warning on floods and subsidence

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Crews work at the site of a sinkhole along the Mariner East pipeline route near the Pennsylvania State Police barracks on Route 1 in Delaware County on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Pipeline builder Energy Transfer/Sunoco said there were no leaks and no pipelines were exposed. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Citing a number of recent incidents, including one in Pennsylvania, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, sent a warning to natural gas and hazardous liquids pipeline operators earlier this month detailing the dangers of flooding and heavy rain events.

The advisory points to “land movement, severe flooding, river scour, and river channel migration” as causes of the type of damage that can lead to leaks and explosions. It outlines current regulations, and details requirements for insuring safe pipeline construction and continued monitoring once a pipeline is in operation.

The agency issues these types of advisories if it sees a trend, they do not necessarily lead to further rulemaking. In this case PHMSA says earth moving incidents have increased across the country, particularly in the east.

Lynda Farrell, director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, says it’s an indication that PHMSA officials are worried about recent events that have led to spills.

“They’re saying ‘it’s a bad idea to put pipelines in areas where damage to the pipeline could be caused by earth movement,'” she said. “If you know there’s potential damage, don’t put them there.”

The advisory does not have the weight of a regulation, it simply sounds an alarm and reiterates regulations associated with pipeline safety. PHMSA lists seven incidents that have occurred in the past several years, including the release of more than 1,238 barrels of gasoline into the Loyalsock Creek from a Sunoco/Energy Transfer pipeline in Lycoming County in October, 2016.

Flash floods and landslides led to the rupture of the line, which was built in 1937.

Rosemary Fuller / Submitted

A sinkhole on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County revealed part of the Mariner East 1 pipeline. The sinkhole was caused by construction of the Mariner East 2 line, which cuts through unstable limestone.

Although not listed in the PHMSA bulletin, officials also suspect that heavy rains and landslides caused the explosion of Energy Transfer’s natural gas liquids Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County last September. The explosion destroyed a house and knocked down power lines.

An investigation by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found the pipeline company had violated permit obligations, which included unreported landslides and erosion into nearby streams.

Following the explosion, DEP inspectors also discovered Energy Transfer illegally eliminated 23 streams and 17 wetlands, and shortened the length of 120 streams while altering 70 wetlands during construction.

The Revolution Pipeline remains shut down.

According to the Capitol Forum, officials in West Virginia have cited Energy Transfer multiple times for erosion issues along the Rover Pipeline, which gathers Marcellus and Utica Shale gas from points in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio for shipping across the country.

In Chester County, Sunoco/Energy Transfer pipeline construction of the Mariner East 2 through karst, or limestone, created sinkholes in residential neighborhoods. The subsidence led to the exposure of the Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids line and a temporary shut down of the line. The company recently bought two homes from impacted residents.

A spokesperson for the DEP says the agency was not aware of the PHMSA advisory bulletin but that the state’s “erosion permit already requires a geo-hazard analysis for things like landslide prone soils of karst geology.”

While DEP issues earth moving and water crossing permits for pipeline construction, safety of current pipeline operations falls under the authority of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

PUC spokesperson Nils Hagen-Frederiksen says the agency is aware of the bulletin and says earth movement is closely monitored.

“As cited in the advisory, earth movement is an identified potential risk and must be considered in a pipeline operator’s Risk Assessment/Integrity Management Plan,” Hagen-Frederiksen said in an email.  “Those plans are inspected annually and the Pipeline Safety Division works to ensure that earth movement is included as an identified risk.”

Sunoco/Energy Transfer spokesperson Vicki Granado says safety is a priority for the company.

“The advisory is a reminder of existing pipeline regulations such as patrolling, continual surveillance, etc.,” she wrote in an email. “It is also a reminder of safety-related issues that can result from earth movement and other geologic hazards. Safety has always been our first priority – the safety of the communities through which we pass, the safety of the environment and the safety of our employees.”

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05/20/2019 - DEP accused of ‘foot-dragging’ on 2-year-old request to regulate PFAS chemical

An environmental group asked a Pennsylvania appeals court on Thursday to order the Department of Environmental Protection to complete its review of a petition to set a health limit for a toxic PFAS chemical.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network said DEP failed to deliver a required report on its request for the agency to set a maximum contaminant limit on PFOA, part of the PFAS family of chemicals.

Even though the state’s Environmental Quality Board unanimously accepted DRN’s proposal two years ago that the state adopt a safe drinking water limit of 1-6 parts per trillion for the chemical, the DEP has still not delivered a report even though it is required to do so within 60 days under state law, DRN said. It also said DEP missed its own subsequent deadline of June 2018 to deliver the report.

DRN accused DEP of “indefensible foot-dragging” and asked the Commonwealth Court to instruct DEP to produce the report, and set a maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for the chemical.

DEP will soon begin sampling for PFOA and related chemicals in a statewide program that will lead eventually to it setting an MCL for two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf follows a federal health advisory for the two chemicals, but in February said it would begin the process of setting its own enforceable limit after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to commit to setting national standards.

Even though DEP’s process is underway, it is not acting fast enough for DRN, and the petition for review is designed to hasten the day that an MCL is set, said Maya van Rossum, who heads the group. She denied there would be any duplication of effort if the court orders DEP to complete its review.

“We feel mandating compliance with the law as the law is written is more likely to result in faster protective action,” she said.

Elizabeth Rementer, a spokeswoman for DEP, rejected DRN’s “foot-dragging” claim as “utterly false” in view of DEP’s commitment to setting a health limit for the chemical. She also dismissed DRN’s claim that the agency didn’t act on the petition, saying that officials continue to review it.

“In 2018 DEP presented its findings, which noted that DEP needs more time to review the petition and that DEP needed a toxicologist to be able to determine the appropriateness of an MCL and if appropriate, what the level should be,” she wrote in an email. “DEP is still in the process of getting that outside expertise.”

Rementer said DEP is “absolutely committed” to setting an MCL and that it is a “top priority” of the Wolf administration.

It’s “not a simple task,” she said, and is expected to begin after the sampling process, which is due to start later this month and take about a year. In total, it typically takes about two years before an enforceable rule is put in place, and DEP is working as fast as possible on this case because of its “significant health implications,” she said.

In its complaint to the Commonwealth Court, DRN said DEP could have used a PFOA standard recommended by New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, a panel of scientists that advises that state’s environmental officials. The New Jersey DEP is now putting in place the institute’s  recommendation for a PFOA limit of 14 ppt, slightly looser than that sought by DRN.

DEP could also have relied on research from DRN’s own consultants, but failed to do either, and “has made no meaningful progress in establishing an MCL in two years’ time,” DRN said.

It is asking the court to rule that DEP violated the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act and the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution.

PFOA and related chemicals, once used in consumer products like nonstick cookware and flame-retardant fabrics, have been linked to cancer and other health conditions including low birth weights, high cholesterol, and immune-system problems. Even though their use has been discontinued by U.S. manufacturers, they don’t break down in the environment, and so are being subject to strict state regulations as more becomes known about their threat to public health.

At the federal level, the chemicals would be curbed by several recent bills introduced by lawmakers, including some from Pennsylvania.

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05/18/2019 - Video: U.S. House hearing on PFAS ‘contamination and exposure’

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on PFAS, a family of toxic chemicals found in drinking water supplies at sites in Pennsylvania and across the U.S.

The chemicals, once used in consumer products like nonstick cookware and flame-retardant fabrics, are being increasingly regulated by states as more becomes known about their links to cancer and other health conditions including thyroid problems, low birth weights and elevated cholesterol.

“We are still learning the full extent of the dangers,” said Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York, who listed some of the health risks and continued, “…it is clear that there is considerable interest on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to determine how Congress shuld proceed in the face of this growing crisis.”

Watch the full hearing below. The committee’s web page has more on the hearing.

05/17/2019 - Pa., N.J., Delaware governors pledge to cooperate on Delaware River Basin environment

The governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware promised on Thursday to work together to preserve the natural resources of the Delaware River Basin but said there is only so much they can do without more federal money.

At a highly unusual joint panel discussion overlooking the river in Philadelphia, Gov. Phil Murphy, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Gov. John Carney of Delaware called for more federal support to protect environmental quality, saying that U.S. government backing is essential to safeguarding the basin, which supplies drinking water to some 15 million people.

The governors, all Democrats, signed a “proclamation” saying they would cooperate to provide clean drinking water, protect wildlife, address climate change using the best available science, and help the Delaware River Basin Commission, a water regulator that already represents the three states plus New York and the federal government.

Although Congress passed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) of 2015 during the second Obama administration — providing federal technical support and a modest $5 million a year for local conservation efforts — the U.S. government is now less active than it should be in that work, the governors said.

“It would be really nice to have a national partner,” said Wolf, whose administration this year began a process of setting health limits for two toxic PFAS chemicals after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined to commit to doing so. “Clean air doesn’t know state boundaries, and climate change seems to have created a lot more localized weather problems.”

Murphy also called for more federal support and accused President Donald Trump of failing to prepare the country for climate change. Asked by moderator Collin O’Mara how communities can prepare themselves for the floods and storms that are expected to come with climate change, Murphy quipped: “How about starting with a new president?”

Asked how they would turn their pledges of cooperation into action, the governors said they would work with their state’s congressional delegations to press for more federal money to protect the river basin.

“We need to get our congressional delegations on board,” said Carney, who led the campaign for the DRBCA when he was a congressman. “We can get more resources to the work that we need to do — that’s the first step.”

Murphy denied the proclamation was “just words,” and said it signaled closer cooperation, especially by state teams of environmental officials. “It’s not just the three of us; there’s a very good working relationship among our states,” he told reporters.

The New Jersey governor also held out the prospect of bipartisan cooperation on the issue of support for the environment on Capitol Hill. “While some may suggest the environment is a one-party notion, in fact it isn’t in our respective states,” he said.

In Pennsylvania, the congressional delegation is now more sympathetic to environmental causes following the election of a new crop of lawmakers, said Wolf. “There’s real potential for getting something done,” he said.

Projects that should qualify for federal support include coastal resilience to rising seas in low-lying Delaware to flood control through such measures as more porous surfaces in Pennsylvania, the governors said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is also represented on the DRBC, was invited to the event but was unable to attend, said O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

Steve Tambini, executive director of the DRBC, said after the Delaware River Governor’s Leadership Summit that the initiative would enhance, not duplicate, his agency’s work by embracing a broader range of issues. “Any focus on the Delaware River Basin is a good thing,” he said. “If it helps the watershed, it’s really going to help the basin commission, and it’s really going to help the river.”

Tambini’s predecessor, Carol Collier, said the governors have not met to discuss basin-related policy since 2004, “so this is a real event to even get three out of the four together,” she said.

Collier, now a senior adviser for watershed management and policy at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, said the new proclamation lays the groundwork for policy.

“We need to keep the pressure on now that they’ve signed this proclamation,” she said. “At the next state budget, we can say ‘What does this proclamation mean? What are you going to do for the Delaware’? I think it gives us a foothold.”

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

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05/14/2019 - New Jersey sues companies over PFAS contamination

Mike Groll / AP Photo

In this June 15, 2016 file photo, a girl holds a sign during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., calling for hearings on the state’s handling of PFOA contamination in drinking water in Hoosick Falls.

New Jersey filed a lawsuit Tuesday against eight manufacturers and sellers of firefighting foam that included forms of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a class of unregulated toxic chemicals that has polluted soil and water nationwide.

The lawsuit, filed in the state’s Superior Court, alleges consumer and environmental fraud.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says the eight companies knew for decades that PFOA and PFOS used as a main component of firefighting foam would contaminate the environment.

“The corporations we’re suing today knew full well the health and environmental risks associated with this foam, and yet they sold it to New Jersey’s firefighters anyway,” Grewal said. “Their conduct was unconscionable, and we’re going to hold these companies accountable.”

The complaint says after use in fighting fires or in routine training sessions, foam-laced water runoff polluted streams, rivers, lakes and underground aquifers.

The lawsuit builds on recent actions by the state to have manufacturers such as DuPont and 3M pay for cleanup. In addition to DuPont and 3M, other companies named in the suit are Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Kidde-Fenwal, National Foam, and The Chemours Company.

PFAS chemicals were also used in stain-resistant clothing, non-stick cookware, and flame-retardant products. They are known as the “forever chemicals” because they stick around in people and in the environment. Scientists are just beginning to research the impacts to public health. Research has linked exposure to health problems ranging from high cholesterol to certain cancers.

The lawsuit claims product liability, negligence and creating a public nuisance. The claims under the Consumer Fraud Act relate to “deceptive and fraudulent business practices” in advertising and selling their products to local fire departments.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection found that three lakes surrounding Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to have “significant damage” from the chemicals and advised residents not to eat the fish, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also points to “elevated levels” of PFOS and PFOA in Atlantic City’s water reserves. The state expects to find more contamination as it continues to measure the chemicals.

New Jersey has been at the forefront of working to regulate PFAS, citing a lack of action from the federal government.

Several companies defended their roles in the manufacture of fire-fighting foam.

In a statement, 3M says it is committed to protecting the environment.

“3M acted responsibly in connection with its manufacture and sale of AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

A spokesman for Tyco and Chemguard, divisions of Johnson Controls, also said the company acted responsibly.

“We make our foams to exacting military standards, and the U.S. military and civilian firefighters have depended for decades on these foams to extinguish life-threatening fires,” wrote Johnson Controls spokesman Fraser Engerman in an email.  “They continue to use them safely and reliably for that purpose today. We will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

A spokesperson for The Chemours Company said it was “puzzled” by the suit.

“Chemours does not manufacture, formulate or sell firefighting foam and does not use PFOS or PFOA in the production of any of its products.”

Chemours is a spin-off of Dupont, and currently manufactures another type of PFAS known as GenX.

The other companies named in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment.