New worker exposure limit set for hexavalent chromium
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is amending the existing standard, which limits occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)). The final rule, which became effective on May 30, 2006, establishes an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit of 5 micrograms of Cr(VI) per cubic meter of air (5 µg/m³). This is a considerable reduction from the previous Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 1 milligram per 10 cubic meters of air reported as chromium oxide, which is equivalent to a limit of 52 micrograms as Cr(VI). The final rule also contains ancillary provisions for worker protection such as requirements for exposure determination, preferred exposure control methods, including a compliance alternative for a small sector for which the new PEL is infeasible, respiratory protection, protective clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, medical surveillance, recordkeeping, and start-up dates that include four years for the implementation of engineering controls to meet the PEL.

Because the new standard was a hotly contested issue, especially over the past several years, the compromised result has been a somewhat confusing rule. The final standard separately regulates general industry, construction, and shipyards in a number of ways including the way at which exposure determinations are made. Additional information on the chromium rule can be found at www.osha.gov and then do a search for hexavalent chromium.

Let the dredging begin
June 5, 2006 was the official start date of a three-year Ohio project designed to dredge 500,000 cubic yards of Ashtabula River mud polluted with 25,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and other contaminants. The project is expected to take about 13 months to complete. The fouled sediment will be being pumped via a three-mile pipeline to a secure landfill.

This project, along with 31 other areas of concern identified by the Great Lakes Legacy Act, are expected to improve persistent chemical problems in the Great Lakes which are the major reason many fish are not safe to eat in large quantities. The Act authorizes $270 million in funding over five years with additional funds coming from responsible parties and partners.

Companies seeing value in moving beyond compliance
Not to be outdone by the ISO14000 international environmental management standard, the EPA launched their Performance Track program in 2000. Strangely enough the program has been somewhat successful. As of April 2006, the EPA boasts a membership of 400 with fairly substantial achievements. According to the EPA, Performance Track companies have voluntarily reduced water use by nearly 1.9 billion gallons, conserved close to 9,000 acres of land, and increased their use of recycled materials by nearly 120,000 tons. In a May 9th report, the EPA stated that 82 percent of the members whose three-year terms expired in 2004 applied to renew their membership. One significant benefit in membership is that companies are shielded from routine EPA inspections and have reduced monitoring and reporting requirements.

The regulatory incentives separate the Performance Track program from other environmental management programs, like ISO 14000. However, unlike ISO 14000, which has little control over pollution reduction outcomes, the Performance Track program requires evidence of beyond compliance pollution reductions. The Fourth Annual Performance Track Progress Report is available at: http://www.epa.gov/performancetrack/ under publications.

Thinking about expansion - think brownfield
EPA continues to award substantial grants to redevelop contaminated industrial sites. According to the EPA, 209 applicants were selected to receive 292 grants for property assessment or cleanup. 184 of the grants totaling $36.6 million are for conducting site assessments and planning for cleanup; 96 grants totaling $18.3 million were for cleanup activities; and 12 grants totaling $15 million were used to capitalize a revolving loan fund and provide subgrants for cleanups (low interest loans). It is important to note that individual states often have their own granting program for Brownfield reuse. Additionally many states have streamlined the process to yield faster results to meet the needs of private development. For a list of recent grant recipients see: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields/06arc/regional.pdf.

Electroplating sludge rule withdrawn
A draft proposal, which would have allowed for the recycling of a certain class of electroplating sludge, known as F006 waste, has been withdrawn, but is not dead. EPA is considering rolling the proposal into a broader rule with other industrial recycling operations. Certain electroplating sludge contains a high percentage of recoverable metals for recycling. Removing the classification of a hazardous waste would significantly reduce the cost of disposal and increase the interest in recycling. However, opponents to the change claimed that unregulated recycling may lead to an increased risk in spills and other catastrophes. Expect more action on this ruling by November.