Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saccharin; one sweet RCRA listed hazardous waste - Part 1

Woot!  Finally some good news on the RCRA front:
On December 17, 2010, EPA published a final rule to remove saccharin and its salts from the CERCLA list of hazardous substances and the RCRA list of hazardous wastes.
So unless you are in the artificial sweetner business or a RCRA head like me, you might be wondering why the EPA would even have identified saccharin as a hazardous waste in the first place.

What is confusing to most, but completly 'normal' to us in the hazardous waste identification process,  is that what makes something a hazardous waste has nothing to do with wheter or not it poses a hazard.

It's all about the definition.  According to the EPA:
  • Saccharin and its salts are listed hazardous wastes [U202 in 40 CFR 261.33(f)], if the waste arises from the discard of commercial chemical products, manufacturing chemical intermediates, off-specification material, container residues or spill residues.

Sounds straightforward enough, but then we have addressed that term discarded before haven't we?  So a generator of a waste that will be discarded that contains saccharin and its salts may need to classify the waste as a hazrdous waste, U202. However, according to the EPA:
  • The U-waste code applies only if the chemical is present in a pure or technical grade form, or is the sole active ingredient in the chemical formulation; in addition, the chemical must be unused.

So the manufacturer of saccharin and the user of the pure or technical grade product will end up with U202 waste if they have a unused material they want to get rid of, have a spill, or empty containers with residue.

But what about a company that purchases a product that contains saccharine?  The EPA makes the following statement on that:

  • The U202 listing is narrow and does not apply to other discarded materials that merely contain saccharin or its salts, e.g., discarded products that contain saccharin as a sweetening agent. Nor does the listing apply to manufacturing process wastes that may contain saccharin or its salts, except for unused or off-specification saccharin or its salts that are discarded.

So basically what the EPA is saying here is that it does not apply to things that contain saccharine or its salts unless the saccharine is unused and discarded.  So an unopened can of diet soda sweetened with saccharine would not meet this definition, nor would a spill clean up on Isle 3.

Now this last bullet is a bit ambiguous as to the why behind this.  In fact it could be read that the can of soda is not U202 because its a "discarded products that contain saccharin as a sweetening agent."  The use of saccharine as a sweetening agent plays no part in this, nor does the logical "because we will drink it."

RCRA hazardous waste identification for P and U have nothing to do with dose, health hazards, or...well, logic.  It's all about meeting the definition.  When the saccharine is added to the soda or is contained in something, it no longer meets the definition of "technically pure" or "chemically pure" or "sole active ingredient."  Since it does not meet that definition, it is not a hazardous waste.  The saccharine, dose, hazard, quantity, or anything else plays into that.

It's all about meeting the definition.

So what about a business, like a store or restaurant, that wants to get rid of a bottle of unused Necta Sweet tablets?

Do the tablets contain saccharine?  Looking at the ingredients we see:

Is that saccharine "chemically pure" or "technically pure" which according to the EPA means:
  • The pure form of a chemical is a formulation consisting of one hundred percent of that chemical.  The technical grade of a chemical is a formulation in which the chemical is almost one hundred percent pure but contains minor impurities  It has some other stuff in there, plus its only 16.2 mgs of saccharine so its not pure because of that as well.  So that leaves asking if the saccharine in the Necta Sweet is the "sole active ingredient" which according to the EPA means:
  • A chemical is the sole active ingredient in a formulation if that chemical is the only ingredient serving the function of the formulation.  

So the question that needs to be answered by the generator (store or restaurant) is this:  Does the sodium bicarbonate, silicon dioxide, povidone, and modified cellulose gum "perform the function of the product, or only serves an ancillary function, such as mobilizing or preserving the active ingredient."  According to the EPA:
  • [F]illers, solvent carriers, propellants, and other components with no [active] role are functionally inert in [these] formulations and therefore are not active ingredients.

If I was making the hazardous waste determination, I would have to say that in the case of Necta Sweet, the saccharine is the sole active ingredient would make this product a U202 RCRA Listed Hazardous Waste. (Note: I would find a different avenue for final disposition so as to not generate a hazardous waste, this is for example only).

Now if you are still reading this, you might be asking yourself what about all those pink Sweet'n Low packets that restaurants throw away every day?  Sweet'n Low is saccharine!

Well that's where Sweet'n Low played it smart.  Let's look at the ingredients in a pink package of Sweet'n Low:

Notice what they did to avoid having their customers classify them as a U202 RCRA Listed Hazardous Waste?  They added "Nutritive Dextrose" as an active ingredient (hence the use of the term 'nutritive').

As you can see the Sweet'n Low contains more saccharine (36 mgs) then the Necta Sweet (16.2 mgs) yet it does not meet the definition of a U202 RCRA Listed Hazardous Waste.  Like I said earlier, the saccharine, dose, hazard, quantity, or anything else has anything to do with it being classified as a hazardous waste.  It's all about the definition!

So by adding the nutritive dextrose to their product, Sweet'n Low met the following:
  • If a formulation contains more than one active ingredient, the formulation would not be within the scope of the P and U listings in §261.33, regardless of whether only one or both of the active ingredients are listed. (1

One could make a reasonable argument that a pill, tablet, or food additive is not a commercial chemical product so the U or P listing would not apply.  The EPA thinks differently on that point as well: 
  • The phrase "commercial chemical product" has different meanings in the definition of solid waste and the definition of hazardous waste. As applied to 261.2, the definition of solid waste, EPA interprets the category of commercial chemical products to include all types of unused commercial products, whether or not they would commonly be considered chemicals (e.g., circuit boards, batteries and other types of equipment).

Now you may be shaking your head thinking that there is no way the EPA would regulate a saccharine tablet. That's what they kind of imply in their Federal Register final rule.  But the regulation of low dose food products and medicines as RCRA hazardous waste was an unintended consequence of writing a regulation too broad that it captured all waste streams regardless of quantity or use. 

An example similar to the saccharine tablets are nitroglycerin pills used for heart attacks.  According to the EPA:
  • As your letter notes, [medicinal] nitroglycerine in finished dosage forms, such at tablets or capsules, has been regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as a 40 CFR 261.33 listed hazardous waste (P081) because it constitutes a formulation containing nitroglycerine as the sole active ingredient.

And people wonder why I like this business of hazardous waste identification.  It's logical aint it?

Next post: Why list a food product as a hazardous waste in the first place?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Air Quality in the Barnett Shale - Part 13: Why bother writing about this?

So here it is, one month and 13 posts later.  You know how many comments I've received for all this effort?  One, and that was from a lady who hopes no one believes what I wrote.  So the question I have to ask myself is why bother?

Does anyone really care about facts or data in pursuit of making a decision on something?  The answer to that is 'yes' but only, it appears, if that information is able to support an idea that they want supported.  So why share my thoughts with a public that has, for the most part, already chosen a side on this topic?  What do I hope to gain from all of this?

What I know to be true is this.  At one time I believed certain things to be true based on what I was told.  After a few decades on this planet and a lot of observation and research, I have found some beliefs to be false.  It was not fully my fault in what I thought to be true.  I have been taught these beliefs by ignorant folks, misguided folks, folks with an agenda, and downright liars.  All the while, though, what is true, remained that way, regardless of what I believed.

The field I have spent the last 25 years in, Environmental Management, is ripe with regulations and methods that are based on a poor knowledge of how to calculate risk.  And it is because of this, that the public - who initiates the do's and dont's we live under in the form of laws and regulations - is often confused on what is a proper course of action to take.

So with the Oil and Gas fracing, exploration, and pumping that is taking place, misinformation, mistrust, and agenda is drawing a line in the sand 180 degrees from where it needs to be drawn.  And if I were to look at this from a completely selfish point of view, I would conclude, so what?  I have no stake in oil and gas, no shares, job, financial gain or loss.  I don't live in an area affected nor do any of my family.  I have no dog in this hunt.  So why bother writing about this?

Because there is a chance that someone who has not made up their mind yet, may stumble across this blog when searching for information on health, oil & gas, or the Barnett Shale, and may come away with enough information to at least ask the question - Is what I am being told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

And why should that matter to me?  I don't know, it just does.  It's important to me that ignorance is not the norm, that those with a personal agenda don't dominate the thinking, that liars are exposed, and that laws, rules, and regulations be established based on good science and sound engineering practices.

If I can add fact, clarity, and insight into the discussion, then all of this is not for naught.  Even if only one person reads it and comes away better informed, then why bother is moot. The world is full of people who misuse science and data to further their own agenda.  In the course of doing this, people get hurt and resources are pulled away from issues that really are causing an impact.  If I can provide information that helps one person understand dose, exposure, risk, or impact, then they will be able to spot the people who - for their own personal agenda or beliefs - are trying to manipulate the system their way.

So when I read the reports on potential health concerns regarding oil and gas production for the Town of Dish, Texas, and I see that they were produced by someone who holds a Master in Public Health -  Alisa Rich - I have a reasonable expectation that the work should be, at the very least, sound in what it puts forth.

And when I determine that it is so fundamentally flawed as to make it worthless, I am left with having to not only defend the integrity of my profession, but my degree as well.  I am also left with the ugly truth that Ms. Rich is either woefully ignorant on the topic or is being purposely disingenuous.  In either case, she should apologize and ask the Town of DISH, Texas to remove her reports.

But even if that were to happen, the damage has already been done.  What Alisa Rich and Wilma Subra so carelessly have done is presented to the public what is referred to as a preinstructional theory.  That is, without informing the public on how dose, exposure, pharmacokentics, and risk play into the development of health issues, they lead people to a theory that because chemical A can cause harm, and operation X produces chemical A, operation X will cause harm. The danger here is that it now becomes very difficult to get the public to abandon what soon becomes a well-entrenched theory of what is happening to them. (1)

So even when presented with 12 individual posts of what Chinn and Brewer call Anomalous Data (evidence that contradicts their preinstructional theories) the unfortunate result will not be a change in the theory but a hunkering down in that belief (see comment in post 10). 

So what's the harm if people believe that oil and gas production is affecting their health?  Well if it leads to bans on drilling (NIMBY), pretty much nothing more than economical harm (although an argument could be made that burning gas for fuel is less damaging than coal or oil or the risk of transporting oil from oversees).

But what happens if the theory is brought forward by a professional that early childhood vaccinations can cause autism? (2).  In this case, "the British medical journal the Lancet retracted a study it had published in 1998 in which British researcher Andrew Wakefield suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine triggered autism. Wakefield's science proved shoddy and his methods questionable." (3).

So what's the harm with that?  Because of shoddy and questionable work, along with his role as a researcher, and the publication in a very well respect journal, a lot of new parents failed to have their babies vaccinated for PREVENTABLE diseases.  They failed to do this because of a belief of a risk that was not there.  And in doing this - following this incorrect theory - they needlessly exposed their children to a REAL risk.

On 4/3/11 I read in our Sunday paper:  "Health officials struggling to contain a measles outbreak that's hit hard in Minneapolis' large Somali community are running into resistance from parents who fear the vaccine could give their children autism." (1)

This is similar to what Alisa Rich and Wilma Subra did when they produced these reports for the Town of DISH, Texas.  They focused the attention on a risk that is not there forcing agency and industry time and energy away from issues that are REAL.  As an MPH, Alisa Rich has an obligation to that credential to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Misleading, biased, incorrect, poor, and shoddy information presented by public health professionals that should know better causes harm.  That's inexcusable for an environmental professional, especially an MPH from the University of  North Texas and a Ph.D candidate from the University of Texas at Arlington.

And that is why I bother writing this.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Air Quality in the Barnett Shale - Part 12: Oil & Gas, it's better if you go green!

Took some time off for the holiday which is why Part 12 has been late in coming.

OK, so in my last 11 posts I have concentrated on two main issues revolving exposure to chemicals:
  1. It's all about the dose
  2. It's all about the K.C. Donnelly Risk Paradigm
Yeah, I have also spent a good deal of Currier font lambasting the work of Alisa Rich, a fellow MPH who - through her company Wolf Eagle Environmental - produced data and reports for the Town of DISH, Texas that are misleading and flawed.

It would be easy to discount my analysis and explanation as being oil & gas friendly, but as I pointed out in my first post, i have no dog in this hunt other than to make sure the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is presented.  I'll cover this in my next post to hopefully shed more light on where I am coming from and what my bias is - or may be. 

The point here is that my last 11 posts should not be seen as "look!  There is no issue.  You people who are complaining should just shut the heck up and let the O&G industry do what ever they please." 

There are two things in play here that cannot be swept under the rug or discounted.
  1. Oil and Gas production contributes to air pollution - they are a point source.
  2. Those that live near Oil & Gas production wells are impacted.
The degree of that air pollution and the type of impact (health, odor, view, noise, dust) is what needs to be addressed in a thoughtful and reasonable manner.  This is where the battle lines are drawn.  Somewhere between a business' "Zero Cost" mentality and a "Zero Risk" desire of the public there can be found some middle ground - what I refer to as "Harmony".

Because there are emissions from Oil & Gas production - and - because these operations have impacted the surrounding community - primarily through noise and odor - the O&G Industry must be cognizant about their past mistakes and how their current operations and intentions are perceived.  It can no longer be business as usual.  A new model for drilling, operating, storing, and transporting must be adopted, and, in my opinion, they must change how they currently operate or the tide will continue to turn against them regardless of actual risk posed.

Dr. Al Armendariz with the Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering at Southern Methodist University in his report for the Environmental Defense Fund, titled "Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements" has calculated the following emissions from the various source categories related to O&G in the Barnett Shale area:

So what does this table show?  Well for one thing, the "Total Daily Emissions" is in "tons per day" or tpd.  It is really hard to imagine 174 tons of VOC being spewed into the air.  That's 348,000 pounds of Volatile Organic Constituents being released into the air per day.  That's a lot.

So the question becomes this:  If the O&G industry in the Barnett Shale will put into the air 12,702,000 pounds of VOC in a year - and - this amount of VOC, according to the TCEQ, "will [pose] no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions," should the O&G industry continue to operate with no additional changes to its current methods?

Or....can they make reasonable changes to their standard operating methods to reduce the amount of pollutants they currently are putting into the air?

You can see the dilemma here can't you?  From a business point of view, why should I reduce something that is not causing any harm?  My answer to that is because you can and should - simply for the fact that every reduction in the amount of pollutants you put into the air improves air quality over all.  Plus, going "green" improves the bottom line in ways that are unrelated to the actual cost of the operation.  O&G needs to look at the big picture here, not just the monthly bottom line.

So what "reasonable" changes should be adopted - or - imposed?  Dr. Armendariz proposes the following which I think should be considered by the O&G industry:
  1. The use of "green completions" to capture methane and VOC compounds during well completions
  2. Phasing in of electric motors as an alternative to internal-combustion engines to drive gas compressors
  3. The control of VOC emissions from condensate tanks with vapor recovery units
  4. Replacement of high-bleed pneumatic valves and fittings on the pipeline networks with no-bleed alternatives
Texas A&M is also actively involved in a joint industry partnership with a number of public and private entities working on a program called "Environmentally Friendly Drilling (EFD) Systems" as a means of "integrating advanced technologies into systems that significantly reduce the impact of petroleum drilling and production in environmentally sensitive areas."  All of this is designed to make a positive change that is both cost effective and beneficial to the community and environment.

So what we need here is a new paradigm shift.  We can drill and produce oil & gas in an environmentally friendly manner.  As the folks at EFD concluded:

It 's not so hard to be green!

Next Post: Air Quality in the Barnett Shale - Part 13: Why bother writing about this?