Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Amazing Simulation of Aerosols Transport Courtesy of NASA

Even if we can't see them, aerosols play an important part in weather, pollution, and air quality. As NASA points out, they are recognized as one of the most important forcing agents in the climate system (Forster et al. 2007).  Using GEOS-5,  NASA's  Global Modeling and Assimilation Office have made available two very impressive simulations of aerosols distribution throughout the earth. It looks like gentle smoke moving about with the wind,  but it helps us see clearly how pollution can spread far and wide. We are more connected than we realize. 

http://gmao.gsfc.nasa.gov/research/aerosol/modeling/nr1_movie/

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

FDA and EPA issue updated draft advice for fish consumption

Advice encourages pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to eat more fish that are lower in mercury

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued updated draft advice on fish consumption. The two agencies have concluded pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children should eat more fish that is lower in mercury in order to gain important developmental and health benefits. The updated draft advice is consistent with recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Previously, the FDA and the EPA recommended maximum amounts of fish that these population groups should consume, but did not promote a minimum amount. Over the past decade, however, emerging science has underscored the importance of appropriate amounts of fish in the diets of pregnant and breastfeeding women, and young children.

“For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Stephen Ostroff, M.D., the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.”

An FDA analysis of seafood consumption data from over 1,000 pregnant women in the United States found that 21 percent of them ate no fish in the previous month, and those who ate fish ate far less than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends–with 50 percent eating fewer than 2 ounces a week, and 75 percent eating fewer than 4 ounces a week. The updated draft advice recommends pregnant women eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces (2-3 servings) per week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development.

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” said Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”

The updated draft advice cautions pregnant or breastfeeding women to avoid four types of fish that are associated with high mercury levels: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico; shark; swordfish; and king mackerel. In addition, the updated draft advice recommends limiting consumption of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week.

Choices lower in mercury include some of the most commonly eaten fish, such as shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.

When eating fish caught from local streams, rivers and lakes, follow fish advisories from local authorities. If advice isn’t available, limit your total intake of such fish to 6 ounces a week and 1-3 ounces for children.

Before issuing final advice, the agencies will consider public comments, and also intend to seek the advice of the FDA’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee and conduct a series of focus groups.

The public can provide comment on the draft advice and the supplemental questions and answers by submitting comments to the Federal Register docket or by participating in any public meetings that may be held. The comment period will be open until 30 days after the last transcript from the advisory committee meeting and any other public meetings becomes available. The dates of any public meetings, as well as when the public comment period will close, will be published in future Federal Register notices at www.federalregister.gov.

For more information:
• Draft advice on fish consumption, and supplemental questions and answers about the draft advice:  Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know
•Federal Register Notice of Availability: Advice About Eating Fish; Draft Update

EPA Requires Ford to Correct Fuel Economy for Six Vehicle Models

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that Ford Motor Company (Ford) is revising the fuel economy (mpg) estimates for six vehicle models to correct errors found in an internal Ford audit. Ford is required to correct fuel economy labels on affected vehicles within 15 days.
EPA oversaw Ford’s re-testing program and conducted independent tests to confirm the corrected results as soon as it was notified by Ford of the potential errors. Ford has agreed to implement enhanced validation tests for future vehicles under EPA oversight.
“This issue highlights the need for continued strong oversight of the fuel economy labeling program,” said Chris Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “Consumers need to trust that fuel economy window stickers are giving consumers reliable and fair estimates of real world fuel economy.
Cars currently in dealer lots will be re-labeled with new window stickers reflecting the corrected mileage estimates. Ford will re-label four versions of the Ford Fiesta, the Hybrid and Energi versions of the Ford Fusion, the C-Max Hybrid and Energi, and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.  Most labels will change between 1-5 miles per gallon (mpg). The largest change is for the Lincoln MKZ hybrid whose combined city and highway fuel economy value has been reduced by 7 mpg. EPA and DOE have updated their joint fuel economy site, www.fueleconomy.gov, to reflect the corrected numbers.
EPA’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., conducts fuel economy testing on a number of vehicles each year to ensure that their performance matches the mileage and emissions data submitted to EPA by automakers. These “spot-checks” are part of the oversight program that helps verify that vehicles on the road meet tailpipe emission standards to protect public health and the environment and that all carmakers follow the same procedures for calculating mileage estimates. 
More information on fuel economy: http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/updates.htm
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EPA Selects Six Universities to Help Find New Uses for Toxics Data


WASHINGTON – 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today its selection of academic partners for the 2014 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) University Challenge, a project designed to find innovative ways to increase public awareness of industrial releases of toxic chemicals in communities and around the country.

“For more than 25 years, EPA has gathered critical environmental data to provide communities with information that empowers them to protect their air, water, and land,” said Renee P. Wynn, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Environmental Information. “Through the 2014 TRI University Challenge, we hope to raise student awareness of environmental data and programs while improving research on our environmental challenges to further our work to protect human health and the environment.”

TRI provides communities with information about toxic chemical releases to the air, water, and land, as well as what industries are doing to reduce and prevent these releases. TRI helps industry, government, non-governmental organizations, and the public make more informed decisions to protect their health and environment.

The TRI University Challenge is open to anyone affiliated with an accredited college or university. The selected projects for 2014 were proposed by faculty and students from Drew University, Southeastern Louisiana University, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Tennessee State University, the University of California Los Angeles, and the University of South Carolina.

Through these partnerships, EPA will work with six diverse academic institutions to develop practical and replicable projects focused on data visualization and analytics for improving the presentation and understanding of TRI data.

The 2014 TRI University Challenge follows the successful 2013-2014 Challenge, in which eight academic partners collaborated with EPA on projects related to environmental education, pollution prevention, stakeholder engagement, and data mash-ups.

While there is no financial award for this Challenge, academic partners will receive support from TRI Program staff and national recognition by being featured on the TRI University Challenge website. In addition, partners will be encouraged to pursue opportunities to speak at relevant conferences and events.

The selected projects will begin in the fall of 2014 and are expected to conclude at the end of the academic year in the summer of 2015.

More information on the TRI University Challenge: www.epa.gov/tri/university

EPA Proposes Updates to Reduce Methane, Other Harmful Pollution from New Landfills

Agency also seeks public input on potential updates to guidelines for existing landfills
WASHINGTON – As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing updates to its air standards for new municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. These updates would require certain landfills to capture additional landfill gas, which would reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and help further reduce pollution that harms public health. The agency also is seeking broad public feedback on how and whether to update guidelines for existing landfills.
Non-hazardous waste from homes, business and institutions ends up in municipal solid waste landfills, where it decomposes and breaks down to form landfill gas, which includes carbon dioxide, a number of air toxics and methane. Methane has a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide.
“Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change,” said Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This latest step from the President’s methane strategy builds on our progress to date and takes steps to cut emissions from landfills through common-sense standards.”
Today’s proposal would require new MSW landfills subject to the rule to begin controlling landfill gas at a lower emissions threshold than currently required. Under the proposal, landfills would capture two-thirds of their methane and air toxics emissions by 2023 – 13 percent more than required under current rules. EPA estimates the net nationwide annual costs of complying with the additional requirements in the proposed rule would be $471,000 in 2023.
Today, methane accounts for nearly 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane in the country, accounting for 18 percent of methane emissions in 2012. Regulatory and voluntary programs, including the agency’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, have helped reduce emissions from landfills by 30 percent from 1990 to 2012. However, without additional actions, methane emissions are projected to increase through 2030.
Also today, EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking broad public input on whether and how to update current emissions guidelines for existing landfills to further reduce their emissions, including methane. The agency is considering updating those guidelines based on a several factors, including significant changes that have occurred in the landfill industry since the original guidelines were issued in 1996. Nearly 1,000 MSW landfills in the U.S. currently are subject to either the 1996 emission guidelines for existing landfills or the 1996 NSPS for new landfills.
EPA will take public comment on the proposed performance standards updates and the ANPR for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. If a hearing is requested, it will be held on August 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Information on the Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/28/strategy-cut-methane-emissions
Information on the Climate Action Plan: http://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CSB Draft Report Finds Deepwater Horizon Blowout Preventer Failed Due to Unrecognized Pipe Buckling Phenomenon During Emergency Well-Control Efforts on April 20, 2010, Leading to Environmental Disaster in Gulf of Mexico

Report Says Similar Accident Could Still Occur, Calls for Better Management of Safety-Critical Elements by Offshore Industry, Regulators   

Houston, Texas, June 5, 2014— The blowout preventer (BOP) that was intended to shut off the flow of high-pressure oil and gas from the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico during the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010, failed to seal the well because drill pipe buckled for reasons the offshore drilling industry remains largely unaware of, according to a new two-volume draft investigation report released today by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).
The blowout caused explosions and a fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig, leading to the deaths of 11 personnel onboard and serious injuries to 17 others.  Nearly 100 others escaped from the burning rig, which sank two days later, leaving the Macondo well spewing oil and gas into Gulf waters for a total of 87 days. By that time the resulting oil spill was the largest in offshore history.  The failure of the BOP directly led to the oil spill and contributed to the severity of the incident on the rig.
The draft report will be considered for approval by the Board at a public meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. CDT at the Hilton Americas Hotel, 1600 Lamar St., Houston, TX 77010.  The meeting will include a detailed staff presentation, Board questions, and public comments, and will be webcast at:
The CSB report concluded that the pipe buckling likely occurred during the first minutes of the blowout, as crews desperately sought to regain control of oil and gas surging up from the Macondo well.  Although other investigations had previously noted that the Macondo drill pipe was found in a bent or buckled state, this was assumed to have occurred days later, after the blowout was well underway.
After testing individual components of the blowout preventer (BOP) and analyzing all the data from post-accident examinations, the CSB draft report concluded that the BOP’s blind shear ram – an emergency hydraulic device with two sharp cutting blades, intended to seal an out-of-control well – likely did activate on the night of the accident, days earlier than other investigations found.  However, the pipe buckling that likely occurred on the night of April 20 prevented the blind shear ram from functioning properly.  Instead of cleanly cutting and sealing the well’s drill pipe, the shear ram actually punctured the buckled, off-center pipe, sending huge additional volumes of oil and gas surging toward the surface and initiating the 87-day-long oil and gas release into the Gulf that defied multiple efforts to bring it under control.
The identification of the new buckling mechanism for the drill pipe ­– called “effective compression” – was a central technical finding of the draft report.  The report concludes that under certain conditions, the “effective compression” phenomenon could compromise the proper functioning of other blowout preventers still deployed around the world at offshore wells.  The complete BOP failure scenario is detailed in a new 11-minute computer video animation the CSB developed and released along with the draft report.
The CSB draft report also revealed for the first time that there were two instances of miswiring and two backup battery failures affecting the electronic and hydraulic controls for the BOP’s blind shear ram.  One miswiring, which led to a battery failure, disabled the BOP’s “blue pod” – a control system designed to activate the blind shear ram in an emergency.  The BOP’s “yellow pod” – an identical, redundant system that could also activate the blind shear ram – had a different miswiring and a different battery failure.  In the case of the yellow pod, however, the two failures fortuitously cancelled each other out, and the pod was likely able to operate the blind shear ram on the night of April 20.
“Although both regulators and the industry itself have made significant progress since the 2010 calamity, more must be done to ensure the correct functioning of blowout preventers and other safety-critical elements that protect workers and the environment from major offshore accidents,” said Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, the CSB chairperson. “The two-volume report we are releasing today makes clear why the current offshore safety framework needs to be further strengthened.”
 “Our investigation has produced several important findings that were not identified in earlier examinations of the blowout preventer failure,” said CSB Investigator Cheryl MacKenzie, who led the investigative team.  “The CSB team performed a comprehensive examination of the full set of BOP testing data, which were not available to other investigative organizations when their various reports were completed.  From this analysis, we were able to draw new conclusions about how the drill pipe buckled and moved off-center within the BOP, preventing the well from being sealed in an emergency.”
The April 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico occurred during operations to “temporarily abandon” the Macondo oil well, located in approximately 5,000-foot-deep waters some 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.  Mineral rights to the area were leased to oil major BP, which contracted with Transocean and other companies to drill the exploratory Macondo well under BP’s oversight, using Transocean’s football-field-size Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
The blowout followed a failure of the cementing job to temporarily seal the well, while a series of pressure tests were misinterpreted to indicate that the well was in fact properly sealed.  The final set of failures on April 20 involved the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer (BOP), a large and complex device on the sea floor that was connected to the rig nearly a mile above on the sea surface.
Effective compression, as described in the draft report, occurs when there is a large pressure difference between the inside and outside of a pipe.  That condition likely occurred during emergency response actions by the Deepwater Horizon crew to the blowout occurring on the night of April 20, when operators closed BOP pipe rams at the wellhead, temporarily sealing the well.  This unfortunately established a large pressure differential that buckled the steel drill pipe inside the BOP, bending it outside the effective reach of the BOP’s last-resort safety device, the blind shear ram.
“The CSB’s model differs from other buckling theories that have been presented over the years but for which insufficient supporting evidence has been produced,” according to CSB Investigator Dr. Mary Beth Mulcahy, who oversaw the technical analysis.  “The CSB’s conclusions are based on real-time pressure data from the Deepwater Horizon and calculations about the behavior of the drill pipe under extreme conditions.  The findings reveal that pipe buckling could occur even when a well is shut-in and apparently in a safe and stable condition.  The pipe buckling – unlikely to be detected by the drilling crew – could render the BOP inoperable in an emergency.  This hazard could impact even the best offshore companies, those who are maintaining their blowout preventers and other equipment to a high standard.  However, there are straightforward methods to avoid pipe buckling if you recognize it as a hazard.”
The CSB investigation found that while Deepwater Horizon personnel performed regular tests and inspections of those BOP components that were necessary for day-to-day drilling operations, neither Transocean nor BP had performed regular inspections or testing to identify latent failures of the BOP’s emergency systems. As a result, the safety-critical BOP systems responsible for shearing drill pipe in emergency situations – and safely sealing an out-of-control well – were compromised before the BOP was even deployed to the Macondo wellhead.  The CSB report pointed to the multiple miswirings and battery failures within the BOP’s subsea control equipment as evidence of the need for more rigorous identification, testing, and management of critical safety devices.  The report also noted that the BOP lacked the capacity to reliably cut and seal the 6-5/8 inch drill pipe that was used during most of the drilling at the Macondo well prior to April 20– even if the pipe had been properly centered in the blind shear ram’s blades.
Despite the multiple maintenance problems found in the Deepwater Horizon BOP, which could have been detected prior to the accident, CSB investigators ultimately concluded the blind shear ram likely did close on the night of April 20, and the drill pipe could have been successfully sealed but for the buckling of the pipe. 
“Although there have been regulatory improvements since the accident, the effective management of safety critical elements has yet to be established,” Investigator MacKenzie said.  “This results in potential safety gaps in U.S. offshore operations and leaves open the possibility of another similar catastrophic accident.”
The draft report, subject to Board approval, makes a number of recommendations to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the federal organization established following the Macondo accident to oversee U.S. offshore safety. These recommendations call on BSEE to require drilling operators to effectively manage technical, operational, and organizational safety-critical elements in order to reduce major accident risk to an acceptably low level, known as “as low as reasonably practicable.”
“Although blowout preventers are just one of the important barriers for avoiding a major offshore accident, the specific findings from the investigation about this BOP’s unreliability illustrate how the current system of regulations and standards can be improved to make offshore operations safer,” Investigator MacKenzie said.  “Ultimately the barriers against a blowout or other offshore disaster include not only equipment like the BOP, but also operational and organizational factors.  And all of these need to be rigorously defined, actively monitored, and verified through an effective management system if safety is to be assured.”  Companies should be required to identify these safety-critical elements in advance, define their performance requirements, and prove to the regulator and outside auditors that these elements will perform reliably when called upon, according to the draft report.
The report also proposes recommendations to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the U.S. trade association for both upstream and downstream petroleum industry. The first recommendation is to revise API Standard 53, Blowout Prevention Equipment Systems for Drilling Wells, calling for critical testing of the redundant control systems within BOP’s, and another for new guidance for the effective management of safety-critical elements in general.
CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “Drilling continues to extend to new depths, and operations in increasingly challenging environments, such as the Arctic, are being planned.  The CSB report and its key findings and recommendations are intended to put the United States in a leading role for improving well-control procedures and practices.  To maintain a leadership position, the U.S. should adopt rigorous management methods that go beyond current industry best practices.”
Two forthcoming volumes of the CSB’s Macondo investigation report are planned to address additional regulatory matters as well as organizational and human factors safety issues raised by the accident.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen

TOMORROW: US EPA Administrator to Deliver Keynote Address on Energy Efficiency at the US Energy Association

WASHINGTON – Tomorrow, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will deliver the keynote address at the U.S. Energy Association’s 2014 Energy Efficiency Forum at 1:30 p.m. Administrator McCarthy will discuss the Clean Power Plan proposal, a vital piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.
WHO: U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy
WHAT: Remarks at U.S. Energy Association’s 2014 Energy Efficiency Forum
WHEN: Thursday, June 12, 20141:30 p.m. EDT
WHERE: National Press Club              529 14th St. NW              Washington, D.C. 20045
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