Federal Water Tap, November 6: EPA Grants Tribes’ Request to Scrutinize Tire Chemical that Kills Salmon

The Rundown

  • EPA will take a closer look at 6PPD, a tire chemical that is toxic to salmon.
  • EPA’s health assessment division resumes a review of the health impacts from nitrate in drinking water.
  • Justice Department Camp Lejeune compensation claims for exposure to contaminated water exceed $3 trillion.
  • Energy Department’s innovation arm considers a biotech-development program for reducing nitrogen use in crops grown for biofuels.
  • U.S. Forest Service proposes allowing carbon capture and storage beneath the lands it manages.
  • EPA science advisers review the agency’s approach to assessing environmental and health risk of chemicals in sewage sludge.
  • Federal funding will spur lead pipe removal in Chicago.
  • Justice Department releases an annual report on advancing environmental justice.

And lastly, USAID details the challenges of delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Fuel, as we know, is one of the most complicated issues right now because it is a dual-use commodity. It is absolutely needed by hospitals and by people to access basic services like electricity, clean water desalination. We know it’s also used by Hamas to ventilate their tunnels, to move goods around, to fire their rockets. So there’s extraordinary scrutiny over fuel and how it is going to move.” — Isobel Coleman, U.S. Agency for International Development deputy administrator, speaking about delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Washington Post reports that the lack of clean water in Gaza is a public health crisis.

By the Numbers

$3.3 Trillion: Value of the claims filed against the federal government by veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water while at Camp Lejeune, Bloomberg reports.

$336 Million: EPA loan to Chicago for the purpose of removing up to 30,000 lead drinking water pipes. The loan is through the WIFIA program, which provides low-interest financing for significant water infrastructure projects.

In context: Some Chicagoans Wary of Lead Pipe Replacement

$65 Million: Additional funding announced to continue work on rural water supply systems in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

News Briefs

Tire Chemical Review
Acting on a petition from three Pacific Northwest tribes, the EPA announced it will investigate the toxic tire chemical 6PPD and gather information for potential future restrictions on its use.

In August, the Yurok Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, requested that EPA use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to prohibit the manufacturing and use of 6PPD. The chemical has been incorporated into car tires since the 1950 to slow their degradation.

Recent research revealed a substantial drawback: the chemical forms a toxic byproduct called 6PPD-quinone, which is lethal to fish, especially coho salmon, even if they were exposed to the chemical for only a few hours. Rain flushes 6PPD-quinone from streets into streams. In addition to pollution, Pacific Northwest salmon are threatened by warming waters and dams.

In its response to the tribes, the EPA did not pledge to ban 6PPD. Instead, the agency will gather information that will inform a future decision on whether to regulate it.

Any action will not be immediate, as the EPA seeks a thorough investigation of 6PPD sources and alternatives. The agency intends to start its quest by publishing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking within a year. Beyond that, the agency “cannot commit to a specific rulemaking timeframe or outcome.”

EPA Resumes Nitrate Health Assessment
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reversing a Trump-era decision, is restarting a human health assessment of nitrate and nitrite, a move that has potentially far-reaching regulatory implications for one of the country’s most pervasive drinking water contaminants.

The EPA suspended its nitrate assessment in December 2018. It was one of nine chemicals that the Trump administration deemed no longer a priority for evaluation by the agency’s health assessment division known as the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS.

That changed in June when the EPA quietly reinserted the nitrate assessment into the IRIS agenda “to address an agency priority.”

IRIS initially agreed to re-evaluate nitrate in 2015 at the request of EPA Region 5 and the Office of Water, which wanted updated health information to inform its periodic reviews of federal drinking water regulations. IRIS reports provide the scientific foundation for federal regulation. Nitrate and nitrite will be evaluated together because they are chemically and metabolically related.

Last year, the Office of Water, Region 5, and the Office of Children’s Health Protection re-nominated nitrate for an IRIS assessment, the agency’s press office told Circle of Blue.

Read more: EPA Restarts Assessment of Health Risks from Nitrate in Water

Storing Carbon Beneath Forests
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to amend its regulations to allow carbon dioxide to be injected into geological formations beneath the lands the agency manages.

Carbon capture and storage is exempt from EPA hazardous waste rules, as long as it meets the requirements of Class VI underground injection wells. The U.S. Forest Service proposal would follow EPA permitting rules for the injection wells.

The proposal is not a blanket approval of carbon storage projects on U.S. Forest Service lands. It simply removes a technical barrier for the agency to begin accepting applications for such projects.

Studies and Reports

DOJ Environmental Justice Annual Report
The Justice Department released a report that reviews the first year of its strategy to help communities that are disproportionately burdened by pollution.

The department highlighted its work to respond to the drinking water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and its investigation of alleged discrimination against Black residents in Lowndes County, Alabama, over sewage pollution.

EPA Science Advisers Review Sewage Sludge Report
The Science Advisory Board submitted its review of the agency’s draft framework for assessing the risk of chemicals in sewage sludge.

The solids that remain after sewage passes through a treatment plant, the sludge is repackaged for use as fertilizer, a product commonly called biosolids. However, hundreds of chemicals can remain in biosolids.

In context: EPA Watchdog Flags Unregulated Pollutants in Treated Sewage Sludge

Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Recap
When it began in the first week of July, the 2023 harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie was the second-earliest to arrive in the last 21 years.

NOAA reviewed the data on this year’s bloom, finding that it was moderately severe in terms of its size. The bloom registered near the upper end of the mid-season forecast. The bloom’s early start helped it grow larger than initially forecasted.

Low-Nitrogen Agriculture
ARPA-E, the Energy Department’s innovation arm, is seeking information to help design a biotechnology-development program aimed at reducing nitrogen use in commodity agriculture.

Corn, soybeans, and sorghum are major bioenergy crops. Synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizers have produced huge yields – but also damage to ecosystems and human health.

ARPA-E wants biotechnology – genetic modifications of seeds, microbes, and plants – that accomplishes two goals: reducing nitrogen use and decreasing emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.

The deadline to submit information is November 27.

On the Radar

Senate Water Infrastructure Hearing
On November 8, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will discuss the struggles of rural and disadvantaged communities to access federal water infrastructure funds.

Great Lakes Water Quality Report
On November 9, the International Joint Commission will release a report that assesses progress on Great Lakes water quality goals.

Register for the 2:00 p.m. news conference here.

Environmental Justice Conference Call
On November 14, the EPA will host a conference call to inform stakeholders on national environmental justice efforts.

The agenda includes a presentation from the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights; information on grants; and an update on a federal research strategy to advance environmental justice.

Register here.

National Drinking Water Advisory Council Meeting
The expert council that advises the EPA on drinking water matters will hold a public virtual meeting on November 28 to 30.

Agenda items: a revised Lead and Copper Rule and a report on microbial and disinfection byproducts.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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