Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
While the worst of the wildfires is over for Wine Country, the region faces another daunting test: the cleanup of heaps of ash, twisted metal and blackened debris scattered across some 250 square miles of burned hills and valleys — an area five times the size of San Francisco.Never before has California seen such wildfire destruction. The blazes that roared through Napa and Sonoma counties this month obliterated at least 7,200 houses, barns and businesses, including entire neighborhoods, each with untold amounts of hazardous items now littered about, from pesticides to propane to melted plastics.
Residents are eager to get their properties cleared of the often toxic wreckage so that they can rebuild, though it will be months before any construction starts. Plans for the huge cleanup are still being worked out, with a goal of finishing early next year. The state will lead the effort, in partnership with the federal government, but only after the fires are extinguished and logistics are addressed.
Officials need to find landfills with enough space to take the rubble and get consent from landowners to clear their properties, matters that could take weeks. Once that’s done, the state is likely to hire hundreds if not thousands of contractors to truck out the debris from private residences and public property. Businesses and their insurers, though, will probably be responsible for cleanup at their sites.
Read more at: Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains – San Francisco Chronicle
Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The E.P.A.’s abrupt new direction on legacy chemicals is part of a broad initiative by the Trump administration to change the way the federal government evaluates health and environmental risks associated with hazardous chemicals, making it more aligned with the industry’s wishes.
For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.
The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.
So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.’s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.
The revision was among more than a dozen demanded by the appointee, Nancy B. Beck, after she joined the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit in May as a top deputy. For the previous five years, she had been an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association.
Read more at: Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots – The New York Times
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Federal and state agencies are already planning post-fire cleanup in seven Northern California counties, including Sonoma, outlining long-term efforts likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars but performed at no expense to residential property owners, officials said Tuesday.
In Sonoma and Napa counties, where more than 100,000 acres have burned, the chore looms so large the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will manage the first phase, which involves removal of toxic materials from thousands of fire-scorched properties.
That includes batteries, paint, solvents, flammable liquids, electronic waste and any materials that contain asbestos.
“We know people are already back at their homes, wondering what to do next,” said Lance Klug, a spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle. The agency typically handles the second phase, involving the removal of non-toxic waste — scraping away ash, concrete, metal and contaminated soil — in fire-affected counties, but CalRecycle’s role in the North Bay cleanup has not been determined, said Klug.
Details on the sprawling two-part cleanup are forthcoming and will be widely publicized, he said.
When that work is completed, homeowners will receive a certificate indicating their property has been cleaned and is eligible for local building permits, he said.
Read more at: U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties | The Press Democrat –
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A huge underground tank full of toxic black sludge in downtown Santa Rosa should be left where it lies because it is too difficult to safely remove and poses little threat to neighboring Santa Rosa Creek, according to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
The utility has also concluded that the contamination on the site of its former manufactured gas plant is immobile enough that it does not need to install a costly barrier designed to prevent waste material from migrating toward the creek, arguing it would be too disruptive and unnecessary.
The hands-off approach outlined for the Santa Rosa City Council last week represents a departure from the aggressive cleanup efforts that PG&E has undertaken on the property in recent years, which have resulted in the removal of tons of similar material.
But PG&E’s environmental consultants say the new strategy is justified because years of water-quality monitoring data shows that neither groundwater in the area nor the creek are at risk of contamination.
“The stuff is immobile. It hasn’t gone anywhere over the past 100 years and we have over 25 years of data,” Max Reyhani, principal engineer with Terra Pacific Group, told the council. “I think that’s a pretty good indication of the stability of site conditions.”
PG&E’s latest plan still needs the approval of the North Coast Water Quality Control Board, which has been overseeing cleanup of the property for nearly 30 years. The City Council, which has no direct authority over the cleanup of the site, has requested regular status reports on the downtown project.
Water board staff expressed confidence that continuing to monitor groundwater in the area made more sense than requiring the removal of the tank and material at this point.
“With the monitoring, I am extremely confident that we’re not going to have an issue that actually manages to migrate to the creek (over the next decade),” said Craig Hunt, supervisor of the water board’s cleanup division.
But not everyone is so sanguine about the situation.
Allen Hatheway, author of a 2012 textbook on the subject of cleaning up former gas plant sites, called the claims that the tank can’t be removed “nonsense.”
Read more via PG&E: Toxic tank in Santa Rosa best left | The Press Democrat.
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Faced with an explosion of marijuana gardens, state regulators are developing a new program designed to bring medical cannabis farmers into compliance with state laws governing water use and water quality.
The regulatory program is expected to be unveiled sometime next year, said Erin Mustain, a senior water resources control engineer with the state Water Resources Control Board’s Cannabis Enforcement Unit.
It’s aimed at halting water diversions that can suck dry small streams; unpermitted grading projects that pollute waterways with dirt; and the misuse of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that have been known to poison streams and wildlife.
Water board staff members already have been meeting with medical pot growers in an effort to educate them about responsible water use and farming practices.
“From our outreach efforts and the feedback we have received from the growing community, we anticipate that most cannabis cultivators and landowners will want to work with us,” Mustain said.
Read more via Effort afoot to develop water-use rules for pot | The Press Democrat.
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Go to this link to access the toxic release database. To generate Sonoma County’s report, use the TRI Explorer tool.
Toxic chemical releases from Sonoma County industries have declined steadily for six consecutive years, confirming the county’s reputation as a magnet for clean business.
Industrial pollution dropped 76 percent from 27,950 pounds in 2007 to 6,801 pounds in 2012, according to a federal government report.
Going back nearly a quarter century, local industries released 332,508 pounds of toxics in 1988, the year the Environmental Protection Agency began tracking chemical emissions.
The steep decline is driven by a mix of factors, including changes made by some companies to clean up their production processes, the closure of other operations or their move out of the county, and the North Bay’s long bid to build and recruit a wider network of businesses with a light toxic footprint.
via More Sonoma County businesses running clean | The Press Democrat.