Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress Report 2010:
Compliance and Stewardship
EPA’s mandate of protecting public health and the environment includes not just enforcing federal laws on waste management and overseeing cleanups, but also preventing waste from being generated in the first place. EPA staff have partnered with other government agencies, communities, nonprofits, tribes and industry to come up with creative solutions to push further down the road to “zero waste.”
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Two innovative hazardous waste prevention partnerships that EPA initiated in the Pacific Southwest showed remarkable results across the U.S. and worldwide in 2009. The U.S. Postal Service has begun removing toxic lead weights from its 215,000 delivery vehicles. And EPA’s partnership with the computer industry and a nonprofit is driving demand for “green” information technology in the U.S. and 40 countries around the world.
EPA has piloted a novel method of reducing the environmental footprint of hazardous waste cleanups at a Silicon Valley site. And in California’s Klamath River Watershed, three tribes teamed up to remove and recycle 400 abandoned vehicles, along with the fuel and toxic fluids that eventually would have leaked and contaminated the soil.
U.S. Postal Service "Gets the Lead Out" with Help from EPA Program
The complete fleet of U.S. Postal Service delivery vehicles will replace all their lead wheel weights with lead-free ones because of a voluntary partnership that started in the Pacific Southwest with EPA’s regional Waste Management Division.
In February 2008, EPA recruited the Pacific Area of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for a partnership in the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) to “get the lead out.” The USPS Pacific Area has a fleet of over 30,000 vehicles in 34 maintenance facilities in California and Hawaii. The partnership has eliminated a total of 5.5 tons of lead from USPS vehicles.
The successful West Coast effort served as the catalyst to switch the entire USPS delivery fleet of 215,000 vehicles nationwide to lead-free wheel weights. When the national partnership is completed, USPS will have eliminated as much as 30 tons of lead from entering the environment and the workplace.
The EPA-Postal Service Partnership will prevent 30 tons of lead from entering the environment.
Lead is a toxic chemical of concern for EPA because it bio-accumulates in the food chain, damages ecosystems, and can cause brain damage in humans, especially children. Nationally, an estimated 1.6 million pounds of lead fall off vehicle wheels every year. These lead weights are ground into dust on highways, which can be breathed, or ultimately enter waterways as polluted runoff.
An average of 4.5 ounces of lead is clipped to the wheel rims of every automobile in the United States. Every car owner can do something to get the lead out. When tires are rotated or balanced, consumers should ask their mechanics to replace the old lead ones with new steel ones.
Part of EPA’s partnership with the USPS included raising public awareness by creating a video to promote this partnership and also encourage consumers to ask for lead-free wheel weights at their car shops. The “Get the Lead Out” video was featured on EPA’s YouTube channel and was so successful that more than 10 public and private fleet managers in the Pacific Southwest Region also signed up as NPEP partners.
All of these voluntary toxic reduction partnerships are part of NPEP, which has a national goal to partner with industries, municipalities and federal facilities to reduce the use or release of highly toxic chemicals, including lead.
It Bears rEPEATing: The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool
In 2003, EPA’s Northwest and Pacific Southwest Offices initiated a dialogue with the electronics industry and state and local governments on e-waste: how to reduce the impact of the millions of computers that are sold, used and disposed of every year. The result of that collaboration is the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).
Today, hundreds of large purchasers, from local governments to corporations, use EPEAT for all their computer purchases. EPEAT has become one of the world’s most extensive and influential green IT product rating systems, used in 40 countries. Its registry has more than 1,000 products and more than 30 participating manufacturers.
Minimizing Environmental Impacts
Participants wrestled with a fundamental topic—how to encourage the design, manufacture and purchase of new computers with the least environmental impact. The solution, rolled out by EPA and the nonprofit Green Electronics Council nationally in 2006, is EPEAT (www.epeat.net). It has proven so successful that EPEAT has driven green innovation by electronics manufacturers worldwide.
doesn’t use much electric power—but millions of them add up to a significant share of electrical energy use, with its environmental impacts: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants; coal, uranium and copper mines (for copper power lines); and dams. Computers have additional environmental impacts through the metals and other materials they’re made of (including toxics like cadmium, lead and mercury), and their packaging and end-of-life management. As recently as 2005, however, buyers had little ability to buy—and manufacturers little incentive to make—more environmentally- friendly models, because there was no common yardstick to demonstrate what was “green.”
From 2003 to 2005, EPA helped lead a group of stakeholders to establish that yardstick. Working together, they defined what makes a computer greener and set up a system to ensure products actually met those claims. The EPA provided seed funding in 2006 to the Green Electronics Council to launch the EPEAT registry—a reliable way for buyers to compare the environmental performance of computers and monitors. The registry published comparative ratings of 60 products from three manufacturers, and it’s been growing ever since.
In EPEAT’s first year of operation, registered products helped save 42.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and prevented 124,000 metric tons of hazardous waste.
Naturally, EPA was one of the first electronics buyers to use EPEAT in purchasing computers for EPA offices. But EPEAT harnessed the purchasing power of the entire federal government—probably the world’s largest buyer—with the President’s January 2007 Executive Order, and later, Federal Acquisitions Regulations, requiring federal agencies to buy EPEAT-registered products for at least 95% of their electronics. By mid-2007, the EPEAT registry included 500 products from 20 manufacturers, including industry giants Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which registered the first EPEAT Gold products—the top rating for environmental performance.
How Products Are Rated
Products that meet 23 required environmental performance criteria may be registered at the EPEAT Bronze level. Depending on the number of 28 additional optional criteria the product meets, it can be rated EPEAT Silver or EPEAT Gold, the highest level. Products are rewarded with additional points as they meet additional environmental performance criteria related to every phase of the product lifecycle, including recycling and disposal.
In 2007, EPEAT’s first full year of operation, EPEAT-registered products helped reduce use of toxic materials, resulting in the elimination of 124,000 metric tons of hazardous waste. EPEAT products also helped save approximately 42.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power 3.7 million U.S. homes for a year.
EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office has played an ongoing role in the governance and management of EPEAT, including cross-agency coordination, expansion into the consumer market, and expansion internationally.
In August 2009, prompted by the demand from information technology purchasers around the world, EPEAT launched its international registry, enabling manufacturers to list ‘green’ computers and monitors in 40 countries across the globe. Purchasers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, China, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico can now evaluate, compare and select electronics based on the products’ environmental performance in their country.
Expanding EPEAT’s Scope
Today, EPA is funding the development of standards for additional products to be included in EPEAT, such as televisions, printers, copiers, multifunction devices and servers. EPEAT also has partnered with major tech-info platforms Channel Intelligence and CNET, putting the EPEAT marks and ratings onto retail websites such as Ingram Micro, Buy.com and others.
“HP offers EPEAT registered products in 36 of the 40 countries included in the global expansion and supports EPEAT because of its comprehensive, unbiased approach to evaluating the environmental attributes of products,” says Steve Hoffman, Director of Strategic Marketing and Sustainability Initiatives for Hewlett Packard’s Personal Systems Group.
“We recognized early on that EPEAT provided an effective, credible tool to identify computer hardware solutions for our clients that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, eliminate toxic substances, increase recycled content and reduce energy usage, at no added cost and with no restrictions on product or supplier choice,” says Tashweka Anderson, Sustainable IT Business Manager at ComputaCenter in England.
North Coast Dump Cleanups: Tribes Partner to Clean Klamath Watershed
One of the most difficult challenges on rural tribal lands is waste management. Nationally, hundreds of open dumps on tribal lands have been cleaned up and closed, but thousands remain, along with thousands of abandoned vehicles.
In 2008 and 2009, the neighboring Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Tribes in California’s Klamath River Watershed joined forces with federal, state and local agencies to tackle waste issues on their lands. Together they removed and recycled more than 400 junk vehicles, and removed 200 tons of trash from three dump sites affecting two creeks and the Klamath River.
The three tribes have worked for over a decade on solid and hazardous waste issues, with funding and other support from federal, state, county and Native American organizations. Efforts to clean up major illegal dumps in the region gained momentum in August 2008, when the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) approved $800,000 to clean up three large dump sites on the Yurok Reservation.
The dumps posed significant health threats to residents as well as to fish and wildlife on the Klamath River, a crucial habitat and migration route for salmon. The federal Indian Health Service (IHS) contributed an additional $30,000 to fund outreach efforts and train a tribal workforce for the project. EPA, United Indian Health Services, the California Rural Indian Health Board, and Humboldt Waste Management Authority also participated.
By September 2008, 18 Yurok tribal members were HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) certified to work on sites with hazardous materials. Dump cleanups began in October. Steep terrain required the use of heavy equipment, including a Sikorsky helicopter to airlift dumpsters filled with waste from the Klamath River Gorge. Over 200 tons of solid and hazardous waste were collected and removed, including tires, appliances, batteries, flammable and toxic solids, and electronic wastes—some of it from a steep slope that spilled trash directly into the Klamath River.
While waiting to begin the second phase of dump cleanups, the Yurok Tribe and Cal- Recycle teamed with the Hoopa and Karuk Tribes, EPA, and other partners to plan and carry out other waste removal projects. In June 2009, the three tribes removed 400 abandoned vehicles from their lands, eliminating the potential for leaks of oil, antifreeze and other toxic fluids. The tribes also cooperated on holding household hazardous waste collection events in October 2009.
In late 2009, EPA awarded $86,350 in grants to the Yurok and Karuk Tribes to help them reduce illegal dumping, increase reuse and recycling, and move their communities toward sustainable waste management practices.
The three tribes, working in cooperation with EPA and the other agencies, have restored the natural beauty of their lands while removing about 500 tons of junk vehicles and trash that posed threats to public health and the environment.
“Green Remediation” Makes Hazardous Waste Cleanups Cleaner
Cleanups of hazardous waste sites can cause pollution, in the form of air emissions from fuel-burning bulldozers and trucks, as well as from power plants or generators that run electric pumps drawing contaminated groundwater through treatment systems.
EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office has developed an innovative Green Remediation policy to measure and reduce the environmental footprint of cleanups. The policy requires analysis and efforts to reduce air emissions, conserve water and energy, and minimize the use of toxics in materials and products. In a pilot study at the former Romic East Palo Alto hazardous waste management facility in Silicon Valley, EPA used some of the principles of a Life-Cycle Assessment approach to compare the environmental footprints of three alternative cleanup methods.
Romic East Palo Alto, which closed in 2007, was a 13-acre site on the southern edge of San Francisco Bay. Groundwater beneath the site is contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs, which include paint thinners, metal cleaners, and chemicals used in dry cleaning and computer manufacture). Here, EPA chose enhanced bioremediation— in this case, injecting a mixture of cheese whey and molasses into the groundwater, to fortify the existing population of microorganisms that consume and biodegrade VOCs.
The pilot study compared bioremediation with two equally effective alternative cleanup methods to determine which had the smallest environmental footprint. One alternative was a traditional “pump and treat” remedy: pumping groundwater to the surface, treating it, and discharging the treated water to the local wastewater treatment plant. The other was a hybrid of bioremediation and “pump and treat.”
Bioremediation had the smallest environmental footprint in terms of fresh water use, air toxics emissions and CO2 emissions. Traditional pump and treat had the largest environmental footprint.
Calculating the Footprint
The pilot study included off-site activities such as manufacturing and transportation, in addition to on-site cleanup activities. First, the study estimated resources used, waste generated, and air emissions from on-site activities. These included construction materials, fuel, water, and electricity used, and CO2 emitted. Also included were resources used and air emissions from transportation of people and materials to and from the site. Plus, the study estimated the magnitudes of 15 environmental parameters, including the water needed to manufacture materials used on-site and in transportation, as well as resulting air toxics and CO2 emissions—including refinery emissions from fuel production.
EPA is now conducting similar pilot studies at two more cleanup sites to further develop a methodology for this type of analysis. This methodology could ultimately be widely used in EPA’s decision-making process on cleanup plans. For cleanups plans already approved, it can help reduce environmental footprints. For example, at Romic about 80% of the diesel fuel used in bioremediation will be used on-site. To help reduce the effects of diesel fuel used on-site, EPA staff are working with Romic to select diesel equipment with particulate filters, and to minimize idling time.
Carmen Santos: Keeping Communities Safe from Hazardous Waste
Carmen Santos has been with EPA since 1989. Carmen spent much of her career managing the air, soil and groundwater sampling and preliminary cleanup work at the BKK Landfill site in West Covina, Calif. In the last two years, however, she’s been overseeing cleanups of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
“I enjoy my job,” she says. “I love my work protecting the environment.”
site with a closed hazardous waste landfill, a closed municipal solid waste landfill, gas collection and treatment systems, ground water and leachate treatment systems, and buffer property. Carmen chaired the BKK Landfill multiagency Steering Committee for about 13 years, working with other regulatory agencies plus the City of West Covina.
During her tenure, Carmen finalized the ground water cleanup plan for the BKK site in collaboration with others and required BKK to conduct additional investigations to reduce releases of landfill gas from the site into outside air.
In her role as the EPA project manager for the BKK site, Carmen helped negotiate a Prospective Purchaser Agreement to allow a buyer, the City of West Covina, to redevelop certain portions of the site. The agreement made possible the award-winning Big League Dreams baseball sports complex and a major retail center, West Covina Heights, anchored by Target and Home Depot.
Redevelopment of former BKK property in West Covina, Calif., made possible the award-winning Big League Dreams sports complex.
With development underway, Carmen worked in partnership with other parties to require environmental monitoring and engineering controls to limit the emission of vapors from the BKK site. When methane gas was found to be migrating from the Landfill site, she required BKK to increase gas collection so it won’t affect anyone at the sports complex. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) now manages the former hazardous waste landfill.
Two years ago, Carmen turned her attention to EPA’s PCB cleanup program. PCBs were used in electrical transformers, paint, caulk, and many other applications before manufacture in the United States of PCBs was banned in 1979. Carmen oversees PCB cleanups all over the Pacific Southwest—about a dozen at any given time. If PCBs are found in a property, the PCBs must be managed following the regulatory requirements promulgated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Sometimes, PCB-contaminated materials such as soils must be removed to an approved hazardous waste landfill. In other cases, Carmen can work with the owners to manage PCB-contaminated surfaces in place where there’s little chance for the public or workers to be exposed to it, or find other solutions acceptable and consistent with the TSCA regulations.
“Each PCB site is different, and we have some discretion about cleanup options, depending on the size of the site and the risk to human health and the environment,” Carmen says. “Once cleaned up, these sites can be redeveloped.”
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