Pollution Prevention Week 2015

pollution prevention week logoPollution Prevention Week 2015, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention (P2) Act, was held September 21-27, 2015. The P2 Act was implemented in 1990 in an effort to address the significant impact that pollution has on our environment. It is inordinately easier to prevent a problem from happening than to fix an already existing problem, and below we’ve compiled a list of some practical steps we can all take to reduce pollution as well as our individual and collective environmental footprints.


recycle arrows from clothThe average American generates over four pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year, 75% of which is recyclable. The EPA estimates that we only recycle 30% of it, even though over 87% of Americans have access to a curbside recycling program. In a single year, Americans throw out about 28 billion bottles and jars as well as about 36 billion aluminum cans, the scrap value of which is estimated to be an astonishing $600 million. Glass containers and cans can go from the recycling bin to a store shelf in just 30-60 days, and 20 recycled cans can be made with the energy needed to produce one new can. Recycling takes little effort yet yields significant impact. Here are some ways to recycle:

  • Participate in an office recycling program for paper, toner cartridges, and kitchen waste
  • Recycle all plastics, glass, metals, and paper with a single stream recycling program
  • Recycle used motor oil, eyeglasses, cell phones, electronics, mattresses, and other household waste at appropriate disposal sites
  • Donate used clothing, furniture, household items, and books to charitable organizations
  • Start a compost pile for kitchen waste, or better yet…

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting food waste

food waste
Environmental activist Rob Greenfield displays one of his “Food Waste Fiascos”, or the edible food he found in dumpsters in one city

In the United States, food waste is the largest single source of waste, with 30-40% of the food supply wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, about a third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide — about 1.3 billion metric tons — is wasted, accounting for the equivalent of about 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. To put it into perspective, that’s about twice the amount of carbon emitted from America’s transportation sector and close to twice the annual emissions of the entire country of India. And all that wasted food equates to a lot of wasted water, as raising and growing food requires an exorbitant amount of water. To produce one pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons of water, and to produce a pound of rice takes about 400 gallons. In fact, the amount of food we waste also wastes about 250 cubic kilometers worth of ground and surface water — an amount about three and a half times the volume of Lake Mead when full.

Reducing the amount of food we throw away starts at the individual level. Plan meals for the week and make a shopping list — and stick to it. Be sure to eat any leftovers for lunch the next day, which will also save money (and calories!) when compared with eating out. Donate any unused food to food banks and shelters. Request “doggie bags” from restaurants, freeze fresh foods before they spoil, and use aging fruits in smoothies and baking. These are all simple yet effective ways to greatly reduce the amount of food we waste.

waste hierarchy recycleReduce usage and carbon footprint

In one year, Americans fill landfills with trash equivalent to the weight of 88 million cars and produce enough trash to circle the earth 24 times. We have the highest per capita water usage in the world, and we use 26% of the world’s energy. In addition, we produce a significant amount of hazardous waste, which is any liquid, solid, or gas that may cause significant threats to human health or the environment if improperly managed. Sources of hazardous waste include industry, research, medical, household, chemical producers, agriculture, and mining, as well as many others. Hazardous waste is often disposed of in landfills or injection wells, where the toxic substances can leak into surrounding groundwater. Groundwater is a major source of drinking water and, once it is contaminated, it is extremely difficult, costly, and sometimes even impossible to remove pollutants. Recycling and waste minimization is the best — and easiest — way to deal with hazardous waste. Changing our daily habits is a simple way to reduce our usage and environmental impact, and to lessen the amount of pollution we produce.

  • Use reusable grocery and shopping bags
  • Install programmable thermostats to automatically turn down the heat or air conditioning at night
  • Replace incandescent lights with fluorescents or LEDs
  • Install water-efficient toilets, faucets, and shower heads
  • Fix all household leaks
  • Plant drought-resistant grass and plants to reduce water needs
  • fix a leak weekOnly run washing machines and dishwashers when they are full
  • Power down and unplug electronics when not in use
  • Print double-sided on recycled paper, and implement a “think before you print” mindset
  • Dispose of all household hazardous waste including batteries, cleaning fluids, paint thinners, pesticides, and mercury items at a dedicated collection site
  • Purchase non-toxic products with minimal packaging
  • Use little to no fertilizer or pesticides, especially near rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds
  • Buy locally, including from farmers, businesses, and manufacturers, as it reduces fuel needs and transportation emissions and supports the local economy
  • Carpool, bike, walk, or take public transportation to work when possible

Protect our water supply — careful what you flush!

r_702-wet-wipe-manufacturers-issue-new-guidelinesSpeaking of water contamination, there is another source of potential water pollutant that is in every American’s home: the toilet. It seems like the perfect place to dispose of all things unsightly. Unfortunately, after the whoosh and the swirl, the item doesn’t simply disappear. In fact, it travels a complex path. What we flush down our toilets travels through sewer pipes to wastewater treatment plants, where it is treated and piped back into our lakes and streams. Therefore, we need to be mindful of protecting not only our pipes and sewer systems, but also our environment. Private septic systems are also at risk for clogging, failing, and for leaching toxins back into the water supply. The only items that should ever be flushed down a toilet are human excretions and plain old toilet paper. To show some concrete reasons why the toilet shouldn’t be considered a garbage disposal, we’ve made a list of commonly flushed items that wreak havoc on wastewater systems and our ecosystem.

  • Disposable Diapers
    Not only do they cause instant clogging, but they also are loaded with toxic coagulating chemicals that simply shouldn’t be in our water supply.
  • Feminine Products
    Feminine products are akin to diapers and contain chemicals as well as non-biodegradable parts, and they are responsible for the majority of household clogs. All of these items should go in the trash – including the applicators.
  • Band-Aids 
    They are non-biodegradable and a biohazard and should be thrown in the trash.
  • Automotive Fluids, Paint, Solvents, Sealants, and Thinners
    All of these items contain toxic chemicals that contaminate water. Please dispose of them in an appropriate manner, not down the toilet.
  • PPCPs-in-Water-300x193Unused Medications
    While flushing seems like a great idea for unused meds – after all, we don’t want them getting into the wrong hands – it is actually extremely dangerous. Flushed meds negatively impact ecosystems by seriously disrupting reproductive cycles of fish, and flushed antibiotics encourage the evolution of drug-resistant microbes. Water treatment facilities do not filter meds, and they are entering our water supply at an alarming rate. Medications should be disposed of safely in the garbage or through an approved take-back site. Please check www.takebackyourmeds.org for more info.
  • Cigarette Butts
    Cigarettes are loaded with toxic chemicals that end up in our water supply when the butts are flushed. Don’t flush, or better yet, don’t smoke!
  • Cat litter
    Most cat litter is made from clay and sand, which should absolutely never be flushed down any toilet, and cat feces contains toxins and parasites that shouldn’t be in our water supply.
  • Pets
    Give the goldfish, mouse, or gerbil a good old-fashioned burial. Decomposing animals cause blockages and release toxins into our water supply.
  • Other items of note: wipes (even if they say flushable!), cooking fats, paper towels, cotton balls, hair, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, food, and chewing gum. When in doubt, throw it out!

There are myriad ways to improve our environment by reducing the pollution we produce, and the above ideas are a small sampling of how we can be greener in our daily lives. P2 Week is the ideal time to take a look at our daily habits and patterns and to see what steps we can take to lessen our environmental impact. If every person made even a small effort to be more eco-conscious, the total impact would be staggering. Whether it is protecting our water supply, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or using fewer toxic products, let’s all implement a few small changes this week to protect our environment and reduce pollution. Happy P2 Week!

Environmental Remediation Services: Why You Should Always Get a Second Opinion

A second opinion on your environmental remediation plan can save you time and money

Thoroughly understanding site assessments and environmental remediation plans is always a challenge. Since most people aren’t familiar with hazardous waste laws, science, and jargon, it is difficult to know if your environmental consultants are making recommendations that are in your best interest. And while their plans may be sound, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion.

environmental remediationWhat is environmental remediation?

Environmental remediation services involve providing solutions to contamination issues, and include removing contaminants from groundwater, surface water, sediment, or soil, including cleaning up after an oil spill. Remediation is very often a governmental requirement or regulation that has the intent to protect people and the environment from exposure to contamination and its potential harmful effects. Limiting exposure can also involve institutional controls such as a deed restriction where remediation is not feasible or cost-effective.

What is an environmental remediation second opinion?

Oil removal

A second opinion includes an independent assessment of an environmental project to evaluate if the proposed remedial action plan is appropriate and that once it is implemented, is progressing satisfactorily and helps to ensure that potential receptors are being protected. These services typically include review of the proposed work plan, laboratory analyses of duplicate samples, observation of field activities performed by cleanup contractors or other consultants, review of documents for technical completeness, and invoice review to evaluate if charges are customary and reasonable.

To illustrate the importance of a second opinion, consider the following: Tata & Howard provided a second opinion to a client who had made a non-refundable $4,000,000 down payment on a property in an industrial area of Boston, MA. Initial assessment by a prior consultant identified petroleum related compounds and styrene in indoor air, the source of which was, according to them, an underground storage tank (UST) located outside the building. Tata & Howard’s assessment indicated that the styrene was actually from an unrelated source inside the building and that a level of No Significant Risk existed for presence of the petroleum related compounds. Remedial action was not necessary to achieve a condition of No Significant Risk and the clients did not lose their $4,000,000 deposit. Read the complete case study here.

The previous example saved the buyers on a number of levels. First, they did not lose their deposit. Second, they didn’t have to invest in a costly remedial action plan. And third, their ability to move quickly forward with the closing saved on time — and we all know that time is money.

site assessmentConclusion

Getting a second opinion will not only better help you to understand your options, but will often help save you money. Tests and analyses may provide a second set of findings, and a fresh set of eyes can often develop an alternate course of action that requires less time and fewer resources. Every site is unique, and every consulting firm has its own methodology. However, not everyone realizes that in today’s competitive economy, it is imperative to identify solutions that are both cost-effective and that can be applied with minimal disturbance to your business activities.

Brownfields Seeing Green – Communities Benefit from Development

Due to high environmental cleanup costs communities lose millions in economic revenue and community revitalization from brownfield sites. Thankfully most states have brownfield redevelopment incentive programs to encourage abandoned sites to be developed.

Brownfield Development Lot
A brownfield site in Massachusetts

A big election-day issue here in Massachusetts was whether voters would maintain the state’s position on developing a gaming industry and, in turn, approve the construction of three large casino facilities in different parts of the state. After a long highly contested debate, voters supported keeping the law as is and the plan for three casinos in Massachusetts will continue.

While casinos have faced tough opposition in many communities around the state, it is arguable that, for one community, the promise to transform a deserted waste-land into prosperous waterfront property, is what swayed many local voters to support this initiative.

Wynn Resorts, the company with plans to turn a polluted former chemical plant in Everett into a new $1.6 billion resort, has a hefty environmental cleanup project ahead before it can even begin to pour the foundation.

Officials have said that the 30-acre site, on the banks of the Mystic River, has housed four different chemical companies dating back to about 1868. Environmental tests have shown that the soil, groundwater and river sediment at the site contain substantial levels of arsenic, lead, copper and other heavy metals.

At a community meeting shortly before the elections, Wynn Resort officials promised the cleanup efforts, which are estimated to take about three to four months and cost roughly $30 million, will meet the “highest standards” set by federal environmental regulators.

Unfortunately, the high cost of environmental cleanup for many communities means these opportunities get ignored thus costing the community significant amounts of money in economic revenue and community revitalization. But thankfully, most communities don’t have to wait for a billion-dollar development project to come to their doorstep. Many states have brownfield redevelopment incentive programs to encourage abandoned sites to be developed.

The Brownfields Act of Massachusetts provides financial incentives to attract new investment in these properties while ensuring that the Commonwealth’s environmental standards are met.

Redevelopment of a brownfield site can be a significant undertaking for a municipality, but it can have an even more significant pay-off in the end. These projects often benefit from pre-planning on the part of the municipality, which may include a brownfield site inventory of the community, a review of existing bylaws or ordinances, and some advance visioning for the area in which a brownfield site is located. It may require a public-private partnership to bring it to fruition, and will benefit from public outreach and involvement. Municipalities can work to foster these relationships with the neighborhoods in which brownfields are located and with potential investors and developers.

For communities interested in starting a Brownfield Redevelopment Project, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a comprehensive tool kit: https://www.mass.gov/envir/smart_growth_toolkit/pages/mod-brownfields.html. For those outside of Massachusetts, visit your state website for details on incentive programs available.

Environmental Remediation is Going Green

HW green remediation sprout and soilTata & Howard’s Hazardous Waste Group recently participated in the LSP Association’s Technical Practices Committee meeting which focused on MassDEP’s Green Remediation initiative. MassDEP is looking for involvement from the LSP community in drafting language for its updated guidelines that it hopes to roll out in May along with the new changes to the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP). According to Tom Potter, Clean Energy Development Coordinator from the MassDEP Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup (BWSC) Clean Energy Results Program (CERP), the ultimate goal is to make “greener remediation” a standard practice for all aspects of cleanup work under the MCP. BWSC recognizes that the LSP community plays a key role in the promotion and application of Green Remediation, which is why their input is being sought. The next MassDEP BWSC Green Remediation Workgroup meeting is scheduled for March 11 from 10am-12noon at MassDEP’s Boston Headquarters, and Tata & Howard will be in attendance.

For more information, please visit MassDEP’s website at https://1.usa.gov/1ftS3gn or contact Joel Loitherstein, P.E.