Friday, July 31, 2015

New: President's Executive Order on Chemicals in Retail

Effective July 22, 2015 the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised requirements regarding retail facilities claiming exempt status under the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals standard. Here's what it means.

The Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard is technically 29 CFR 1910.119. Process safety management is an analytical tool focused on preventing releases of any substance defined as a "highly hazardous chemicals" by the EPA or OSHA. These so-called tools are essentially a bundle of organizational and operational procedures, design guidance, audit programs, and a host of other methodology support.

Revisions took place in accordance with the President Obama's August 1, 2013 Executive Order 13650 called Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.

The retail facility 50% test

In the former PSM policy there were two interpretations OSHA didn't like:

1. Under the former policy, retail facilities were defined as, "establishments engaged in retailing merchandise, generally without transformation, and rendering services incidental to the sale of merchandise."

2. Also under former policy, establishments were deemed exempt by way of something called the "Fifty Percent Test." According to this interpretation, retail facilities that derived 50% or more of their income from direct sales of hazardous chemicals to end users claimed an exempt status.

Each of these interpretations directly contradicts their original intent, says OSHA. Thus, OSHA has rescinded all prior policy documents, letters of interpretation, and memoranda related to the retail exemption and fifty percent test.

Exempt? Maybe not anymore

In accordance with OSHA's new policy regarding "PSM Retail Exemption Enforcement," all facilities once formerly exempted under OSHA's 1992 interpretation of 'retail facility' must now comply with requirements (29 CFR 1910.119).

However, this only applies if the facility, or portion of the facility, processing highly hazardous chemicals does not fall under the North American Industrial Classification System definition of retail trade (NAICS 44 and 45). Employers with covered processes are already effectively complying with most of OSHA’s PSM requirements through requirements of EPA's Risk Management Program rule, RMP Program 2.

When will OSHA enforce the new PSM?

OSHA notes that the new PSM interpretation will take time to gel. So, for the first six months after the Retail Exemption Memorandum's issue, OSHA says it will exercise enforcement discretion and will:
  1.  focus on providing compliance assistance to affected employers
  2.  engage key industry stakeholders
  3.  advise its State On-Site Consultation Projects that during this period requests from newly covered employers should be their highest priority for receiving an on-site visit
None of that will preclude plain ol' enforcement, though. OSHA will refrain from citing employers for violations of the PSM standard at facilities which would not have been cited under the former PSM retail exemption policy.

However, the new policy will be enforced if OSHA discovers facility conditions which expose workers to an immediate and severe danger — and if OSHA determines the employer hasn't made a reasonable good faith effort to eliminate or substantially control the hazard.

For more, visit the OSHA web site:

To learn more about this chemicals and risk in facility compliance, try Wikipedia:

To learn more about the longest German word, which was a regulatory term (or course it was), visit our previous post: #ForFun

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Circular Economy Is Here

Philips – the Fortune 500 company that makes electronic everything – appears to have been ahead of its time. The company announced a goal to produce zero waste via principles of so-called "circular economy." The announcement came last year.

The circular economy is here, this year. As of last week.

Circular economy 

Members of European Parliament last week called for "systemic change" to address "resource scarcity." In specific terms, this means they passed a resolution to put circular economy legislation on the table, with the intention to move forward by the end of 2015.

The European Commission stated unequivocally that the European Union needs to use natural resources more efficiently. For example, a 30% increase in resource productivity by 2030 could boost its Gross Domestic Product by nearly 1% and create an extra 2 million sustainable jobs, said MEPs in a resolution voted on last Thursday.

But to achieve that growth, the EU needs binding waste-reduction targets, revamped ecodesign laws, and measures to uncouple growth from resource use.

In a nutshell, circular economy principles aim to design products from materials – and in forms – that can be reused in some way.

"This is a paradigm shift -- a systemic change that we are facing – as well as a huge hidden business opportunity," said lead MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, after her resolution was approved by 394 votes to 197, with 82 abstentions.

"But to make this happen, we need legislative, informative, economic and cooperative actions. First, we need a set of indicators and targets. We need a review of existing legislation, as it fails to incorporate the value of ecosystem services. We need a broadening of the scope of the ecodesign directive, a renewal of the waste directive, and a special focus on certain areas like sustainable buildings," she said.

An example of circular economy in action:
Trina Solar, one of the largest solar panel manufacturers in the world based in China, have started developing technologies and standards for recycling end-of-use photovoltaic modules in anticipation of the obsolescence of first-generation panels. The reverse logistics operation will mostly be located in end-usage countries. Glass will be extracted from the modules and used for other glass applications, while the electronic control systems will be treated as waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). This will allow the company to reap the benefits of secondary material value as well as remain compliant with regulations.  – from Reuters
Circular economy is all the buzz on Twitter right now, for a list of accounts to follow, go here.

To read the European Commission statement, visit this page.

For an overview of the circular economy, please see our previous post:

Friday, July 17, 2015


The longest German word is said to be "Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenüber-tragungsgesetz." To hear it pronounced in all its glory, this YouTube video captures a man saying just that one word.

Apparently this wonderful word was nominated for the 1999 German word of the year. It refers to a "law for regulating the labeling of beef." Do you remember? Imagine encountering a man saying that word at a Compliance meeting in Berlin, after all-night travel to Europe and little sleep. That would wake you up!

The beef law, introduced in 1999, was commonly shortened up and transcribed as the more charming and accessible, "RkReÜAÜG."

Which sounds a lot like "arrgh" to a non-German speaking ear.

RkReÜAÜG, my life is over

Apparently the word was so long, it extended out into space and eventually vanished altogether. Just kidding, not true! In fact, the beef regulation was repealed in 2013. So, shortly thereafter, Germany retired the word. Authorities nodded to the word and said, "Abschied und denken Sie daran, Sie nicht ein Krapfen sind."

Which loosely translated means, "Farewell, and you are not a jelly donut."

Do a Google search for "Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz,"
and you'll get the entire picture. Hilarious. It's good to have some fun in our line of work now and then. This is part of the joy of global supply chains in the modern regulatory landscape.

A little of WHIMIS, and a little of that Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.

All in a day's work.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New Nature Reviews Materials Journal 2016

This is exciting news for folks in the materials management field. Everyone's favorite science journal family, Nature, is launching a new publication in January 2016 of interest to any business that buys, uses, makes or sells materials.

It's a material world
Starting in January 2016, Nature Reviews Materials will be a monthly, dedicated reviews journal. Its aim is to provide timely, authoritative Reviews and Perspectives that are of broad interest and of exceptional quality across the entire spectrum of materials science and engineering.

Materials research and the management of all that data is a diverse and fast-growing discipline and encompasses both fundamental and applied studies. The field has moved from an engineering focus to a position where it has an increasing impact on the classical disciplines of physics, chemistry and biology. As such, it deserves meaningful coverage, is the gist of the press material. We couldn't agree more.

Nature Reviews Materials will be the first physical science journal in the Nature Reviews portfolio and will complement its "sister" research journal, Nature Materials, which was launched in 2002. Both publications, we like to say, neatly complement this blog!

Nature Reviews Materials hopes to connect with its audience by:
  1. Providing balanced coverage of scientific topics, across all disciplines of materials science
  2. Tackling scientific topics from a variety of viewpoints – more specifically, the making, measuring, modeling, manufacturing and management of materials
  3. Offering a snapshot of the primary research literature in Research Highlights
We're looking forward to it!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

BP To Pay $18.7 Billion for Deepwater Oil Spill

BP, states like Texas and Louisianna and Alabama (on the Gulf of Mexico), and the US Environmental Protection Agency have reached a landmark settlement regarding the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill disaster of April 20, 2010.

BP has agreed to pay $18.7 billion as compensation for for the oil rig explosion and subsequent underwater leak and contamination.

The payment will be spread out over 18 years. Actual payment is roughly $1 billion per year. For 18 years. Assuming there's no funny stuff on the way to the forum.

How much is $1 billion per year to BP? In 2009, BP profits were $14 billion. That's $14 billion in the till after paying all operating costs, including salaries.

So the company could in theory pay $14 billion per year and not suffer any losses.* Which makes $1 billion per year seem, well, almost affordable.

Why settlement is important

This agreement is important because it recognizes and compensates for many aspects of damage – to multiple entities. So many supply lines were interrupted, and the economic impact of lost tourism and lost and suspended enterprise small and large in the area requires some well-considered calculations. Bundling the environmental impact into the overall compensation is very important.

"This is a landmark settlement," Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama said of the $18.7 settlement, as quoted by the New York Times. "It's designed to compensate the state for all the damages, both environmental and economic."

Environmental impacts are taken more and more seriously each year. Which means businesses face greater risk exposures in terms of potential environmental mal-effects all the time. Mitigating this risk becomes paramount (here's how to start better managing the risk).


Read more about the Deepwater Horizon settlement here, including background about the spill: NYT BP Deepwater Horizon and a similar story from Wall Street Journal, with less background.

*For reference, here's a summary of BP 2014 data: BP 2014 financials. Since 2010, figures have shrunk in BP's profits column, while depreciation figures have steadily increased.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Honeywell's Biodegradable Microbeads

Honeywell and Metabolix have entered a global, exclusive commercial and technology alliance to deliver new plastics that are intended to meet increasing regulatory and other requirements around the world concerning personal care microbeads. Microbeads are the little scrubby plastic bits found in exfoliants, toothpaste and cleansers for both men and women.

The tiny plastic bits are an environmental nightmare for reasons it only takes common sense to see. (Hm, thousands of tons of almost-invisible and environmentally persistent plastic pieces pouring into waterways from houses everywhere, what could possibly go wrong?)

So meanwhile, polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) polymers will be available soon as part of Honeywell’s Asensa line of personal care additives as a result of the partnership with Metabolix.

Should we be excited?

Wisconsin bans microbeads

Well, Wisconsin is perhaps excited. Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) signed a bill banning microbeads. The bill effectively bans the manufacturing and sale of personal care products containing them, UNLESS those beads are "biodegradable."

Three states that have voted to ban microbeads:
  1. California (bans both synthetic and so-called "biodegradable" beads)
  2. Connecticut
  3. Illinois
California's is the toughest law. It bans both synthetic and so-called "biodegradable plastics," which tend not to actually biodegrade into benign substances but instead break down into still-smaller pieces of plastic. Smaller pieces do not solve the plastic pollution problem. In fact, small pieces are the problem.

Also, it is particularly difficult for a plastic to biodegrade in an aquatic environment because the process requires high heat and light. So the conditions tested for in labs that deem a plastic to be "biodegradable" don't apply in rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. 

Some sort of ban legislation has momentum in many states:
  1. Michigan
  2. Minnesota
  3. Washington 
  4. Oregon
  5. New Jersey
  6. Colorado
  7. Maine 
  8. New York
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Hawaii
When you start looking at it, almost every state has some sort of proposal on the table to ban microbeads. It's just that the bans vary slightly from state to state. Some wonder, what use is it to make a product that contains biodegradable microbeads if you can sell it in Wisconsin but not in California? Maybe there's some sense to that but it's very limited.

What chemicals are in microbeads?

So here comes Metabolix, a company that will provide Asensa, the personal care additives division of Honeywell, microbeads that are 80% diodegrabable. These mostly-biodegradable beads are made of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolymers.
Unlike conventionally produced microbeads, which have a base of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or nylon (the chemical make up of these materials alone should have raised a few eyebrows here and there), this PHA-based option is biodegradable. Why?
PHAs are generally derived from lipids or fats. In the case of Metabolix’s product, corn dextrose is the feedstock the company is using for now. "It’s essentially a fermented product, a polyester made from fermentation, which can then be turned into a polymer."
- Read more on that here.
What's wrong with a good old fashioned sugar scrub? Mud? Or pineapple?

I wrote a scathing final sentence but deleted it. It sounded judgmental.

Instead let's say: natural products can really ease the pressure on waste streams and the environment. Instead of plastic microbeads in anything, talk to the nice folks at the local health food store about options for cleaning teeth, skin and hair.

(Guest blogger: K.M. Hurley)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fracking Disclosure Requirements, 2015

The Obama administration said in March that in June companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands must disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. This is the first major federal regulation of the controversial drilling technique that has sparked an ongoing boom in natural gas production.
It's a gas, gas, gas?

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just released a watershed report showing that fracking, while potentially dangerous, has not caused widespread harm to drinking water.

But studies in Europe have different results. Dare I say, "as usual?"

A new report by the CHEM Trust (a British charity that investigates the harm chemicals cause humans and wildlife) highlights serious shortcomings in regulating fracking. The report outlines how 38 fracking chemicals are "acutely toxic for humans" and a further 20 substances are mutagenic, or known or possible carcinogens. Further, it gives specific examples of hazardous materials used in fracking, including chemicals "associated with leukaemia in humans" and "toxic to sperm production in males." The trust warns it is "particularly concerned about the use of hormone-disrupting chemicals."

New fracking regulation

At any rate, it doesn't matter what the EPA says. Or what some English study group came up with. There is a new rule requiring companies to disclose chemical information about their fracking cocktails. Note there are many tricks to material disclosure -- such as naming a cocktail without naming its substances -- but that's a topic for another day.

The new rule would regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid to be disclosed to the public. It would require pollution tests of water sources before and during petroleum development. It would require oil and gas producers to hold permits in order to increase stormwater runoff.

The rule rumored to take effect in June (when is that, exactly.. ?) updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids used in fracking. Companies will have to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of the fracking operation.

Tips and tricks for interested parties: the website allows users to gather well-specific data on tens of thousands of drilling sites across the country.

Fun fracking facts: Over 90,000 fracking operations on federal and tribal lands will be affected by new Interior Department measures. Over 100,000 oil and gas wells operate on federal and tribal lands, and the Interior Department receives about 5,000 drilling permit applications a year, Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze said Friday. In all, about 32 million acres of land – roughly the size of Florida – are under lease for oil and gas development.