Pollution Prevention Week – Tips for a Greener Future

pollution-prevention-week-2017Pollution Prevention Week takes place each year during the third week in September. This special week celebrates the passing of the Pollution Prevention Act in 1990, and serves as an opportunity for businesses, individuals, governments, organizations, and groups to focus on pollution prevention (P2) by celebrating their sustainability achievements, expanding current practices, and implementing new initiatives. In addition, P2 Week serves to remind individuals and organizations of the myriad ways that pollution can be prevented.

T&H provides UST services.

While many organizations and initiatives focus on recycling and mitigation, the most efficient and beneficial way to protect the environment is to avoid pollution in the first place. Once the environment has been compromised, it is much more labor intensive, energy intensive, and costly to return conditions to their natural state. For example, ensuring that double-walled Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) are maintained and in good condition is critical to the protection of groundwater and soil. When a UST leaks and contaminates the surrounding area, soil remediation is required, which in some cases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, any contaminated water will require a much more comprehensive treatment train, leading to expensive infrastructure projects and higher operational costs for water utilities. Preventing the leak in the first place requires simple maintenance and monitoring, such as regular testing of leak detection systems, maintaining accurate inventory records, and maintaining spill buckets, which comes at a small fraction of the cost of clean-up activities to both the wallet and the environment.

Pollution prevention is just as important on an individual level. While the actions of one person may seem insignificant, the collective action of millions of individuals is monumental. In celebration of P2 Week, we’ve assembled 20 simple tips that we can all implement to minimize our environmental footprint.

  1. Make sure your home is well-insulated and has energy efficient windows.

    While not practical for everyone, chickens provide grub control, aeration, and fertilization for lawns.
  2. Practice environmentally-friendly lawn care (Here are 10 tips to start!)
  3. Use water-based paints and be sure to rinse paint brushes in the sink, where the water will eventually make its way to a wastewater treatment plant, and not outdoors, where the paint will end up in the groundwater.
  4. Utilize LED lights instead of fluorescents, which may contain mercury. When disposing of fluorescent bulbs, be sure to take them to a certified collection center.
  5. Plant trees. They help to keep the air clean.
  6. Utilize recycled content plastic lumber for decks. Plastic lumber lasts far longer than wood lumber and requires no painting.

    Fix leaks to conserve water.
  7. Fix leaks and install water saving faucets and fixtures. (Visit here for more water tips!)
  8. Compost kitchen scraps with worms. Bonus: you’ll get free, organic plant food.
  9. Always bring reusable bags to the grocery store. Worldwide, we throw away over one trillion plastic bags each year, many of which end up in our oceans.
  10. Buy products in the highest bulk possible to avoid excess packaging.
  11. Use non-toxic household cleaners and personal care products.
  12. Dispose all prescription drugs at a certified drop-off location. Do not flush! Prescriptions are wreaking havoc on our water supply.
  13. Use cloth napkins instead disposables, and washable rags instead of paper towels.
  14. Buy organically grown food. Pesticides contaminate our water and harm our environment.
  15. Use reusable glass containers for leftovers and lunches. Avoid plastic baggies and boxes.
  16. Lower household heat by a degree or two, and have the boiler serviced annually to increase efficiency.
  17. Be sure appliances are energy and water efficient, and only run the dishwasher and clothes washer with full loads.
  18. Carpool, walk, or bike to work, or use public transportation. If possible, work at home one day per week to save fuel and energy.
  19. Buy washable clothing that doesn’t require dry cleaning. Dry cleaners are a large contributor to environmental contamination.
  20. Use rechargeable batteries, and be sure to dispose regular alkaline batteries at a certified drop-off location. Batteries can wreak havoc on our soil.

Do you have any other easy tips to prevent pollution? If so, share them in the comments. As Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” At Tata & Howard, each of us looks forward to creating a greener, healthier future by doing our individual, small part to decrease pollution. Happy Pollution Prevention Week!



UST Removals in Massachusetts

Photo courtesy of https://www.enviroequipment.com
Photo courtesy of https://www.enviroequipment.com

As of August 7, 2017, MassDEP’s closure requirement 310 CMR 80.15 mandates all single-walled steel underground storage tanks (USTs) to be closed-in-place or removed. Covered under this regulation are tanks and associated piping that have more than ten percent of their volume underground and hold petroleum products or hazardous substances listed in the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act. With the deadline now less than one year away, it is important to fully understand single-walled USTs, their potentially harmful impact on the environment, and how to properly plan to remove them.

Single-Walled USTs Explained

USTs have been used for many years to store hazardous substances and petroleum products used by a wide variety of businesses. In addition to the tank itself, a “UST system” includes the underground piping that is used to fill the tank and draw product from it. Until the mid-1980s, most USTs were made of bare steel, which is likely to corrode and leak over time. These leaks can exist undetected for years and cause pollution of the surrounding soil and even groundwater. The piping in the system can also leak if not properly installed and maintained. In many cases, contaminant leaks do not get discovered until the owner or operator realizes that a significant amount of product in a tank goes missing or when the tank is removed and contaminants are found in the underlying soil. Another indication of a leaking UST is neighbors complaining of odors in their buildings or experiencing problems with their drinking water.

Leaking USTs, specifically single-walled steel USTs, have caused considerable environmental damage in Massachusetts, affecting public and private water supplies, wetlands, and soil. In some cases, vapors from contaminated soil and water have permeated homes and businesses. Many millions of dollars have already been spent on cleaning up these leaks, but fully protecting public health and the environment from UST leaks relies on removing or closing the storage tanks altogether.

Benefits of the MassDEP UST Removal Requirements

The site of a former gas station transformed into a pocket park in Hamilton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of https://www.journal-news.com
The site of a former gas station transformed into a pocket park in Hamilton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of https://www.journal-news.com

The removal or permanent closure of aging, single-walled USTs benefits many areas of a community. The new MassDEP regulations will benefit human health, ecosystem functions, and land productivity.

Human health benefits are among the top reasons why single-walled USTs are now required to be removed by August 7, 2017. Contaminated well water and vapor intrusion are the most critical threats to human health from failing USTs. Leaks from USTs can endanger residents for miles through contamination of groundwater, and increased cancer rates and blood disorders have been attributed to exposure to petroleum products, which are commonly found in USTs. The petroleum vapors which are emitted are highly flammable and are potentially dangerous when found in people’s homes. Vapors can travel through soil, sewer lines, storm drainage systems, and other pathways to enter homes and other buildings.

Many single-walled USTs are located in old gas stations, providing the opportunity to add aesthetic and ecological benefits to a community. If a UST leaks into soil, the site becomes contaminated and is considered a brownfield. Removing or closing USTs and making the site usable again decreases the need for development elsewhere and helps preserve greenfields, such as pastures or forests. Many old gas stations are situated in quite visible locations within towns or neighborhoods and can be reused for purposes such as gateways, town centers, or pocket parks. Such redevelopment opportunities improve a locality’s appeal and create recreational value.

Removing or closing-in-place single-walled USTs results in several ecological benefits. Preventing leakage of hazardous material can reduce surface water contamination – protecting fish and other wildlife. Below the ground, removing USTs ensures that leaking tanks will not compromise underground aquifers for future generations. In the long run, this will better protect our drinking water’s taste and purity. Removing USTs also greatly improves land use because former UST sites with a “clean bill of health” will be more likely to develop and prosper without environmental restrictions.

Are there any exceptions to the new regulations?

Soil contamination from a UST which leaked hundreds of gallons of oil. Photo courtesy of https://mde.maryland.gov
Soil contamination from a UST which leaked hundreds of gallons of oil. Photo courtesy of https://mde.maryland.gov

The MassDEP has included exceptions to the UST removal regulations. Tanks are not required to be removed or closed-in-place if they are consumptive use tanks – such as for heating oil in homes – and single-walled tanks that were relined prior to August 8, 2007 in accordance with API 1631. For these relined tanks to be exempt, the owner or operator must possess a permit and approval issued by the head of the local fire department, or a current legally valid warranty for relining. Other exceptions to the new regulations include single-walled steel tanks that have been wrapped with fiberglass, aramid, carbon fiber, or plastic compounds. It is important to note that single-walled steel tanks that are temporarily out-of-service are NOT exempt from the closure requirement, even if they are consumptive tanks for onsite usage. USTs that are not actively used or temporarily out of service are considered abandoned and must be removed or closed-in-place by August 7, 2017.

MassDEP’s UST closure regulation allows tanks to be permanently closed-in-place only if they cannot be removed from the ground without removing a building, or the removal would endanger the structural integrity of another UST, structure, underground piping, or underground utilities. When closing a tank in place, it is required to clean all contaminants out of the tank to prevent future leaks.

In Conclusion

Meeting MassDEP’s closure requirements means more than just being up to code. Removing hazardous USTs benefits everyone involved. It improves a property’s environmental footprint, removes high risk conditions, and reduces an owner’s environmental liability. Compared to the cost of cleaning up hazardous materials after a UST leak, removing a single-walled UST is well worth it. There is only one year left to comply with the MassDEP UST regulations, so it is imperative to start planning now to remove or close-in-place your single-walled USTs.

Please feel free to contact us for any questions on MassDEP’s requirement or for assistance with UST removals and closures.


World Soil Day 2015 — Why It Matters

world_soil_dayWorld Soil Day, which was officially sanctioned by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2012, falls on December 5 each year, the same day as King Adulyadej’s birthday. Bringing together nations around the globe, World Soil Day led to 2015 being declared International Year of Soils. This special year, which has promoted soil awareness through events and education, will come to a close at FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy, on World Soil Day 2015. To further illustrate the success of World Soil Day, this same day will also serve as the launch of the first ‘Status of the World Soil Resources Report’.

Fast facts on soil

  • plant_in_soilSoil provides habitat to an abundance of species both above and below ground
  • The health of soil has a direct impact on the nutritional value of the food we eat – both animal and plant
  • Carbon is a key component of the soil as it controls many processes, including water storage, soil structure, and nutrient cycling
  • Soil that is high in organic carbon content increases infiltration and water retention, which in turn increases drought resistance
  • Every gram of soil organic carbon holds up to eight grams of water
  • Soils lose carbon through degradation, but can be restored through best management practices
  • Conventional agricultural practices cause soil erosion at a rate of up to 100 times greater than the rate of natural soil formation
  • One inch of topsoil takes over 500 years to form through natural processes
  • Soil stores 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions
  • By increasing soil organic matter by only 1%, all of the carbon added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Age would be removed

Why is soil so important?

crop_landOnly 15% of the Earth’s land is suitable for growing crops. With the rapid increase in global population, demand for food is on the rise and it has become more important than ever to maintain the health of the land’s fertile soil. In fact, over the past 40 years, one third of our world’s arable land has become degraded. Even more concerning, 75% of the degradation of the soil is considered severe. Contributing to the degradation is the practice of continual plowing of fields, excessive use of fertilizers, and deforestation.

Healthy soils not only provide the basis for our global food supply, they also hold far more water than unhealthy soils. The organic matter in soils acts as a giant sponge, holding about 20% of its weight in water. It also recycles nutrients that plants require, improving the health of plants and greatly reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Because healthy soils hold so much water, they also reduce stormwater runoff, nutrient loading, erosion, and the need for irrigation. Healthy soils are a key contributor to the overall health of our environment, and they also provide significant cost savings to farmers, homeowners, and municipalities by reducing the need for chemicals, irrigation, and water treatment. Therefore, it is paramount that we protect the arable land that we have and try to increase the health of our soils.

How soil becomes contaminated

LSP_servicesSoil contamination is caused by the addition of human-made chemicals to soil. The contamination typically exists as a result of leaking or ruptured underground storage tanks (USTs), pesticide application, contaminated surface water infiltration, landfill waste leaching, or direct discharge of oil, fuel, or industrial waste. The most common chemical contaminants are pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, solvents (such as those from dry cleaning operations), lead, and other heavy metals.

What we can do

There are many methods by which to protect our existing soils as well as to improve the health of degraded soils. To do this, we need to implement best land management practices including holistic farming methods, reduction in impervious surfaces, reforestation, and restoring wetlands. In addition, remediation of contaminated soils, particularly those in urban settings, greatly increases environmental health.

hands_healthy_soilFortunately, just as our water can be treated and cleaned, our soil can be remediated as well. Many contaminated sites can successfully be remediated with in-situ cleanup using soil vapor extraction, air sparging, bioremediation, and enhanced monitored natural attenuation technologies. Because our natural ecology is so interconnected, remediation of contaminated soils brings a myriad of environmental benefits including improved soil, air, and water quality, increased future arable land, and decreased virgin land development.

Besides soil remediation, which needs to be performed by licensed experts such as Licensed Site Professionals in Massachusetts and Licensed Environmental Professionals in Connecticut, there are steps we can take at home to improve soil. Planting intelligently within managed landscapes, increasing groundcover and vegetation, applying mulch and composts, retaining crop stubble, reducing tillage, and using organic fertilizers all contribute to improving the health of soil. In addition, Low Impact Development (LID) practices, typically utilized to manage stormwater, also help to save topsoil and improve the health of our soils. Installing rain barrels, planting rain gardens, utilizing permeable pavers, and disconnecting impervious surfaces are just a few of the ways in which we can do our individual part to save the world’s arable land.

Happy World Soil Day!