Transforming CT’s Cleanup Regs. – Problems and Opportunities

There is a consensus among stakeholders working with Connecticut’s environmental cleanup programs that change is needed. The rigid framework of the Remediation Standards Regulations (RSRs) combined with DEEP’s lack-luster support for the LEP program and a reluctance to accept site-specific risk assessment has resulted in bogged down remediation programs. This regulatory bottle-neck may be contributing to the slow the pace of the state’s economic recovery.

Under CEEP Commissioner Dan Esty’s vision and Graham Steven’s management, I participated in one of six workgroups set up to tackle questions including: evaluating the effectiveness of the current 16 remediation programs; incorporating liability relief into the remediation system; and surveying successful programs in other states. This was public participation on a grand scale and a great value to state’s taxpayers – six workgroups of 16 people, that’s 96 stakeholders (representing business, industry, legal, environmental groups, consultants/LEPs, and government) contributing their 1,400 years of collective experience to the task of clarifying problems and offering solutions. Each group has met five or six times, and together expended over 3,000 hours of effort in five weeks. At normal billing rates, I’d estimate the professional effort donated to the State of Connecticut during this exercise to be worth over $400,000.

Click on this link to read the Remediation Transformation Work Group reports, see the summary of the problem and an attempt at proposed solutions.

Common threads that run through the workgroup recommendations include:
1. The current system is not working in a manner that benefits the citizens; the Transfer Act is particularly problematic and needs to be fixed.
2. Moving to a unified system has clear benefits.
3. A revised system needs to have site specific risk-based on-ramps and exit points.
4. Other states have successful risk-based models to emulate.
5. Incentives must be included to help unclog the system, protect the environment and re-vitalize the real estate market.

Don’t let Connecticut’s best value go unread. Download the six reports to your Kindle and read up on them this weekend. In a future post, I’ll key – out sections which I found illuminating. Do you have experience with other programs in other states that work well to remediate sites to a reasonable and risk-based level of protection of public health and the environment? Now is the time to have your voice heard. The public comment period on the reports ends on November 7. The DEEP is inviting comment at .

OysterFest 2011

Without question, Wellfleet is my favorite place on earth.  Located on the tip of Cape Cod, It is a friendly town, rich in quaint seaside character.  Since more than half of Wellfleet’s land area is part of the National Seashore, you can expect to find some of the most beautiful beaches on Cape Cod. Even more popular than the beaches, are Wellfleet’s abundance of oysters.

The Wellfleet OysterFest is an oyster lover’s dream come true.  The annual two-day festival takes place the weekend after Columbus Day. Tents and oyster shuckers line Main Street and the two large parking areas in the center of town.  OysterFest brings together locals and visitors alike for a weekend of fun featuring something for everyone: local cuisine, educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, children’s activities, live music, road races, walking tours, and the Oyster Shuck-Off competition.  My favorite local studio, The Jewelry Studio of Wellfleet, had a tent featuring unique jewelry created by Jesse Mia Horowitz, a local Wellfleet woman.  Out of all her beautiful pieces, my favorite is an oyster pendant, which she casts out of silver using a real Wellfleet oyster as a mold.  The food choices range from chilidogs, and burgers, to fresh shucked oysters, home made chowder and Arnold’s famous fried oysters. Winslow’s Tavern, a restaurant located in the heart of Wellfleet, serves some of their best menu items at a low price to guests who pack into the outdoor area.

The Oyster Shuck-Off takes place on the main stage behind Town Hall.  Contestants are given 24 oysters to shuck as fast and elegantly as they can.   Controversial rulings have been known to fire up the crowd of thousands, as devastating time penalties are added for broken shells, massacred oysters, and blood shed from slashed fingers.  Contestants are the fastest shuckers in the area, and include Wellfleet’s commercial fishermen and chefs from near and far.    It is fun to see different shucking techniques used by the competitors.  This year, Anton Christen of Boston’s Union Oyster House brought a special shucking rock, which he used to help slam his shucker into the side of the oyster.  There were also some friendly rivalries between some of the local seafood suppliers.  A shucker from Mac’s Seafood competed against a shucker from Hatch’s Fish Market to determine which place really shucked the best oysters.  Adventurous members of the audience had to dodge flying shells in hopes of bidding on trays of the briny delicacies and eating a piece of oyster history.

At one point, someone dressed as a golden scallop rushed the stage and entertained the audience with silly dance moves as they waited to hear the results of the first competitors.  The winner of the Shuck-off earns a $1,000 cash prize and qualifies to complete in the National U.S. Oyster Shucking Championship in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  James Gray, who gracefully shucked 24 oysters in just two minutes and twenty-nine seconds, completed this year’s fastest shuck time during Saturday’s qualifiers!

Out of all the fun and festivities, I think my favorite part of OysterFest is Wellfleet’s dedication to the environment that supplies them with their famous oysters.  One key focus of the festival is to educate the public about the critical role oysters play in a healthy ecosystem.  Many educational tents could be found that featured interactive ecosystems for kids (and adults) to explore.  All oyster-eaters are asked to recycle their shells so that Wellfleet can dump them all back into the ocean.  This helps the reproduction of more oysters, in fact recyclers expect to create between three and seven times more oysters just by putting used shells (which carry valuable nutrients) back into the water where they came from.  Recycling also helps the promotion reef development in the area, which helps control erosion and provides habitat for many sea creatures.  Recycling oysters even the helps filter the water!  Adult oysters filter several gallons of water per hour, which removes particles and pollutants from the water.  Check out this PDF for more detailed information on why it’s important to recycle your shells!  It is so inspiring to see a town working together to create a healthier ecosystem in their waters.  The size of the shell recycling bins was unfathomably heaping, which brought a tear to this OysterFest-er’s eyes.

If you’re looking for a fun, educational, and delicious weekend outing, pack yourself up and get to Wellfleet’s OysterFest next year!

In schools and other buildings where there is concern about exposures to PCBs, inhalation of contaminated air is usually the exposure pathway of greatest concern.  However, few, if any, laboratory studies have specifically considered whether the inhalation of PCBs results in the same or different health effects than those observed when PCBs are ingested.

In their risk assessment models, the USEPA assumes that exposure to PCBs by all routes of exposure are toxicologically equivalent.  Since most or all of the animal toxicity studies used to assess PCBs have been feeding studies (using the ingestion pathway), this is the mode of exposure that we know the most about.  However, there are some good reasons to suspect that inhalation exposures may be different from ingestion due to the way PCBs behave once they enter the body.  This is particularly true because the liver is one of the principle target organs for PCBs.

When any toxic material is ingested (or a pharmaceutical product for that matter) absorption usually begins in the stomach and is generally completed in the small intestine.  As chemicals are transferred into the circulatory system from the digestive organs, their first destination in the body is the liver.  So if a chemical gives rise to liver toxicity, ingestion can be a particularly damaging route of administration because the toxic material proceeds directly to the liver from the digestive tract.

By contrast, when a toxic material is inhaled, it enters the lungs, transfers to the blood, goes to the heart and from there enters the general circulatory system.  By the time an inhaled toxic material reaches the liver, its concentration has been reduced by dilution into the overall volume of blood in the body.  What’s more, in the case of lipid (fat) soluble chemicals like PCBs, a high percentage of the dose entering the body by inhalation will become sequestered in other fatty tissues before the PCBs ever reach the liver.  The overall effect would be to reduce the potential toxicity to the liver.

Interestingly there are pharmaceuticals that exhibit similar effects, testosterone is a good example.  When used as a pharmaceutical, testosterone can not be given orally, that is by ingestion, because it can cause liver toxicity. This is despite the fact that it is a naturally occurring hormone.  However, when given by routes of administration that reduce the concentration that the liver sees at any one time, testosterone does not harm the liver.

At this time I am not aware of good animal studies that test whether inhaled PCBs are in fact less toxic than ingested PCBs.  However, there are a large number of well documented human studies where people were exposed to PCBs by inhalation in occupational settings.  These studies consistently show less toxicity than has been predicted by EPA’s health effects models.  It could be that this lower than expected toxicity is due to inhalation being the exposure pathway for these people rather than ingestion.  If this is true, then it supports the idea that low concentrations of PCBs in air may be less hazardous than thought.

Thinking of “leaf peeping” this weekend but don’t know where to go?  The US Forest Service recently launched its expanded Fall Colors 2011 and the site is jam packed with information about one of nature’s most spectacular seasons.  Within minutes I had all the information I needed to plan a weekend adventure of leaf peeping.

The Fall Colors website includes clickable maps that link to forest-by-forest fall color information, state tourism, and fall color websites.  It also offers a variety of family activities like finding direction without a compass, how to make leaf and bark rubbings, and how to make a waterscope.  Waterscopes are a simple, but very useful tool that allows you to easily see the life taking place in shallow streams and ponds.

You can also access the latest foliage updates at the Fall Colors Hotline – 1-800-345-4595.  The hotline provides audio updates on the best places, dates and routes to take for peak viewing of fall foliage in national forests.

The hardest part for me will be deciding between a road trip to the White Mountain National Forest in Woodstock, New Hampshire via the Kancamagus Highway  or a trip along the Connecticut River byway in Vermont.   Either way, I’m sure it will be a good choice!

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are an environmental contaminant in the news  because they have been discovered in schools and other buildings.  PCBs are actually a mixture of many different similar chemicals; there are 209 chemically different chlorinated biphenyls that together make up the PCB chemical group.   If you spend time learning more about PCBs, a term you may run into is “coplanar PCBs” sometimes also referred to as “dioxin-like PCBs”.  Neither of these descriptions are really scientifically accurate, but they have stuck anyway.

Chemically, coplanar PCBs usually refer to 12 of the 209 possible PCB molecules that do not have a chlorine atom stuck in what organic chemists refer to as the “ortho” (or number 2 or 6) position (typically the mono-and di-chloro PCBs are not counted as being coplanar).  The absence of an ortho-chlorine atom allows the biphenyl molecule to get closer to being a “flat” molecule; that is one with all 12 carbon atoms lying in a single plane; thus coplanar.   Of the 12 chlorinated biphenyls generally considered to make up the coplanar PCB group, 8 are generally absent from commercial PCB mixtures.   Based on pioneering analytical work by George Frame at GE’s R&D Laboratory, we know that the total sum of coplanar PCBs in commercial PCB mixtures is well less than 1%.

The reason coplanar PCBs are also referred to as “dioxin-like” is that they have some ability to bind to the same biological receptor protein molecule that dioxin binds to.  Other common environmental contaminants, such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) also bind to this biological receptor.  The ability to bind to this receptor does not mean that either PAHs or PCBs have the same type of toxicity or the same potency as dioxin.

The World Health Organization has concluded that certain of the coplanar PCB molecules should be treated as if they were less potent versions of dioxin; the USEPA seems to agree.  The relative “toxic potency” of the coplanar PCBs  is quantified using Toxicity Equivalence Factors (TEFs).      The USEPA and other regulatory agencies routinely require that testing be conducted so that the amount of dioxin equivalent toxicity of wastes and dredge spoils can be calculated.

The TEF approach is not without its critics.  There is in fact considerable scientific controversy about the application of TEFs to coplanar PCBs.  In a number of cases the use of TEFs has been shown to significantly overstate actual toxic hazards.

Paul Locke, MassDEP’s acting head of the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup, was the lead speaker at the September 13th Licensed Site Professional Association (LSPA) membership meeting.  In his remarks, Locke repeatedly advised LSPs to be “on the lookout” for upcoming changes in the Department’s programs and structure.  However, he provided scant details about the changes and was very cagey about “not wanting to spill the beans” in advance of the commissioner’s announcement of the changes, expected sometime in October.

One change he was specific about was the elimination of the previous requirement that any site with Activity and Use Limitation (AUL) would be subjected to a MassDEP compliance audit.  This announcement was the first many in the audience had heard of this change.  Locke said the change was welcomed at the Department because it gave MassDEP greater flexibility to target audits in this time of decreasing resources.

The elimination of the “guaranteed audit” may remove one of the  disincentives for using AULs as a site closure tool.  While an audit is still a real possibility at any MCP site, there may be a shift in the perception of “audit risk” with this policy change.   It makes sense that if the use of AULs is perceived to be less risky, then their use will be given greater consideration in more situations.

If more AULs are used, this may result in a higher percentage of permanent site closures; an outcome that MassDEP and the regulated community would smile upon.