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Issues Of The Environment: The Washtenaw County Pollution Prevention Program

Washtenaw County Public Health

Recent events in our community, like the Ann Arbor area’s 1,4-dioxane plume, have increased residents’ awareness of – and concern about – the chemicals companies use.  While many state and federal regulations may exist that govern chemical storage and manufacturing, these regulations generally do not involve an onsite inspection component.  As a result, the programs are enforced on a complaint basis or incident, after the fact.  In this week’s "Issues of the Environment," WEMU’s David Fair talks withKristen Schweighoefer,  Environmental Health Director for Washtenaw County Public Health, about 25 years of effort to manage these issues in Washtenaw County.

The Washtenaw County Pollution Prevention Programoperates on the front end of the model, with annual reporting and regular inspections to prevent incidents from occurring.  The program was the first in the state, and one of the earliest in the nation.

What is the Pollution Prevention (P2) Program?

The Washtenaw County Pollution Prevention Program is responsible for providing oversight to local facilities that store, manufacture, or use hazardous, toxic, or polluting materials. Inspectors ensure that facilities utilize and dispose of hazardous materials properly, thereby preventing environmental contamination. This program operates in accordance with the Washtenaw County Pollution Prevention Regulation.

Currently, over 1,200 facilities are monitored by the P2 Program.  Thousands of gallons of hazardous materials have proper spill control as a result of P2 Regulation stipulations, reporting requirements, and inspections.  In general, a wide array of businesses are part of the P2 program, including oil change shops, chemical manufacturers, lawn and landscaping companies, golf courses, auto repair facilities, dry cleaners, and large industrial corporations.

It is the purpose and intent of the P2 Program to protect public health and the environment by:

    ·         Identifying facilities that use, produce or store toxic, hazardous or potentially polluting materials

·         Maintaining records of chemical inventories

    ·         Preventing the release of toxic, hazardous or polluting substances into the environment

Providing information to assist emergency response personnel in controlling toxic releases to the environment, including working with the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).

Promoting remediation of environmental contamination throughout Washtenaw County.

What is the P2 Program’s History?

Historically, environmental regulations for chemical storage and disposal were lax until the early 1980’s, when awareness was raised by some major contamination incidents, such as Love Canal.

Locally, the Environmental Health and Public Health staff would receive contamination complaints, but enforcement capabilities were limited until federal pollution regulations were established.  With awareness raised, and enforcement rules in place, the office began to see more involvement with contamination sites.  However, the office was not the enforcement body.  It was more of a reporting role to the State.  When Environmental and Public Health received a complaint about an industrial facility near Ypsilanti, with neighboring businesses complaining of odors and questionable chemicals on site, the office investigated and found unknown chemicals being stored outside in barrels that were completely rotted through, with the contents leaking onto the ground.  The office worked with the State to help the company to improve their practices and clean up the area.  This situation raised awareness that there are problem sites in our own backyard and that local officials may be in a better position to respond to these sort of instances with a local regulation.  Today, this company is still in business, and does a really great job.  However at that time, there was a lot of concern among the community, neighboring businesses, and fire departments/law enforcement that companies were operating with unknown substances, and unknown quantities of these substances.  To protect the community from hazards associated with toxic, hazardous and polluting materials, the County adopted the Community Right-To-Know Regulationin 1986.

Another instance on the west side of the County involved collaboration with the State to seek enforcement and penalties against a company that was dumping waste oil into a creek.  This event helped to guide the implementation of chemical storage and waste disposal into the program.  The Community Right-To-Know Regulation was amended and renamed the Pollution Prevention Regulationin 1992.  This regulation was last updated in 1994.  The office is currently looking into making updates to the Regulation, and/or policies that accompany the Regulation, to account for current technologies and hazards.

Over the course of the 25+ years, the regulation has been in effect, the county has worked with over 4,000 local facilities.  It gauges the success of the program by the reduction in environmental incidents and complaints, as well as the increase in compliance with the Pollution Prevention regulation requirements.  A good history of storage and reporting practices qualifies for reduced inspection frequency (and cost).  A high percentage of the facilities in the program qualify for reduced frequency today.

What is the P2 Program’s Role in Environmental Response?

If an environmental incident or chemical spill were to occur, the P2 Program will assist emergency response personnel by providing information included in the facility’s inspection reports and status sheets, such as names and amounts of chemicals in the facility.

3 Main Components of the P2 Program: Reporting, Storage and Waste Disposal


Every business in Washtenaw County that stores, uses or produces more than 5 gallons or 40 pounds of hazardous materials must submit a status report to the P2 Program each year.  The report must contain the following information:

    ·         Types and quantities of hazardous materials at the facility

·         Site plans/storage locations

    ·         Chemical hazards

    ·         Emergency contact information

    ·         Plans for responding to emergency situations

There are approximately 1,200 businesses in Washtenaw County that submit status sheets annually.  These are reviewed by staff, and any changes are updated in the facility records.


Underground storage is governed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  Above ground storage of chemicals is covered under the Pollution Prevention Regulation.  The Pollution Prevention Program utilizes the best practice of secondary containment to prevent spills of liquid materials.  Secondary containment involves the material being stored in spill control devices that are external to the primary container of a substance.  [Picture a 55-gallon barrel of oil stored on a concrete pad that has curbs encircling it.  This way, if that 55 gallon barrel leaked, the oil would be contained in the concrete curbed area.]  The concept of secondary containment is to prevent environmental contamination or human exposure to chemicals when a primary container is damaged or spilled.

The following are some of the chemical storage rules for the Pollution Prevention Program:

    ·         All liquids must be stored with secondary containment.

·         Materials used for secondary containment must meet the following conditions:

·         Must be compatible with, and impermeable to, all substances stored within the structure.

   ·         Must be resistant to weathering.

   ·         Must be able to bear any load that would result from the rupture of a primary storage container.

   ·         Must be noncombustible if flammable or combustible liquids are in the area.

A secondary containment area must be large enough to withhold a complete spill of the largest primary container, even if other items are in the containment area.

All materials stored within a secondary containment unit must be compatible with each other and with all primary containers in the area.

Primary containers must be placed to allow for inspection of both primary and secondary containers.

Storage rooms for flammable liquids must have mechanical venting.  All electrical fixtures must be explosion proof.  The rooms must be free of open flame furnaces and other ignition sources.

Solid materials must be in sound packaging protected against moisture and other potential damage.

Compressed gas cylinders must be secured to a stationary object or affixed in a welding cart.

Storage rooms for compressed gases must have accurately calibrated low oxygen monitors and must be mechanically vented.  All heat sources and electrical fixtures must be explosion proof if flammable gases are stored.

Gas specific monitors are required for storage of gases identified by SARA Title IIIas extremely hazardous.

Compressed gases stored outdoors, including liquid propane, must be protected from vehicles, vandalism, and other sources of damage.

Waste Disposal:

As part of the reporting requirements, the facility must indicate the intended plan for consuming or ultimately removing the hazardous substance from the facility.  For example, this could be accomplished by consumption of the substance in the process of manufacturing products; shipment in the ordinary course of business to retailers or wholesalers of the substance; shipment to a workplace of the party located outside the County; discharge of the substance into the local sanitary sewer system; loss of the substance by evaporation, or other means.

If a company has waste material that needs to be disposed, the company must keep manifests on file that show that any waste material is collected by a licensed company and is hauled to another location to be safely reused or disposed.  The program ensures that hazardous materials are not being dumped into storm drains or flushed down floor drains that are connected to a storm drain or creek.

Essentially, the program wants to ensure the chain of custody for hazardous materials, indicating what happens to the material from cradle to grave.

What are the Inspection Requirements for the P2 Program?

Washtenaw County staff routinely inspects over 825 businesses that store 56 gallons or more of hazardous materials.  Frequency of inspection depends on the quantity of materials stored and the level of compliance achieved and varies from once a year to once every four years.  However, staff may make site visits as needed to ensure compliance with the P2 Regulation.

What Does an Inspection Entail?

A P2 inspection entails a Washtenaw County Sanitarianmaking an appointment with a person familiar with the chemical storage and handling at the facility.  Prior to inspection, the Sanitarian will review the status sheets and any past inspection reports and documentation.  On site, Sanitarians will meet with the owner or manager of a smaller business or a designated safety officer in a larger business.  A review of the chemical inventory, including quantity, delivery frequency, and disposal methods is completed.  A site plan, which is a drawing of chemical storage locations is also reviewed along with a spill plan if required.  Following the paperwork review, an inspection of the facility is conducted, including any indoor and outdoor areas where chemicals are stored.

What are the Most Common Violations?

If violations occur, they are typically minor violations that do not require a follow-up site visit.  The most common minor violation involves container labeling, or lack thereof.  Federal and state requirements indicate that chemical containers must have a proper label indicating contents.  Sometimes at facilities, the majority of drums are labeled, but labels are missing from a few.  Another common minor violation is lack of absorbent materials readily available.  This type of material is crucial to have on hand in the event of an accidental spill on site.

Although not frequent, some major violations that require follow-up do occur.  The most common major violation involves lack of proper secondary containment.  For example, a chemical storage drum may be located outdoors on the grass.  If this were to be damaged or leak, the ground could become contaminated. To correct this violation, the drum should be placed inside proper secondary contaminant.  In addition, indoors, chemical storage drums could be located near a floor drain.  The chemical could leak or spill, draining into either a sanitary sewer that is not equipped to treat the chemical, or it could drain directly into a storm drain that leads to a creek or other surface water.  To correct this violation, the drums should be placed on spill control pallets, or the floor drain should be plugged.  These control methods eliminate the pathway onto the environment.

What Services Will P2 Program Staff Provide?

The P2 Program staff is committed not only to protecting the environment, but also to working in cooperation with local facilities.  Services staff will provide in addition to inspections and review of documentation include:

    ·         Courtesy inspections to exempt facilities

·         Expert consultation and education

    ·         Chemical storage plan review

    ·         Information to assist facilities in county, state and federal regulation compliance

Often, staff can work with facilities to come up with better, safer alternatives to current products or practices.  One such recent example involves a staff member working with a dry cleaning business to not only reduce the amount of cleaning product on hand, but to also change from a toxic product (perc) to a cleaner that is similar to a powdered laundry detergent.  The new product not only offered similar cleaning characteristics as the perc, but it is also much safer for the environment and for the employees working at the business.

Environmental Excellence Partnership Program (E2P2)

Many of the businesses involved in the Pollution Prevention Program do a stellar job.  The Environmental Excellence Partnership Program, coordinated by the Washtenaw County Office of the Water Resources Commissioner, recognizes businesses and non-profit organizations in Washtenaw County that provide leadership in environmental protection and practice environmentally sound behavior in the areas of water quality protection, waste reduction and recycling, and pollution prevention.  Partnership is free and participants receive free technical assistance, complimentary audits, recognition in the community via advertisements and displays at community events, and more.  Participants are also eligible for our annual Environmental Excellence Awards.

Award criteria include:

    ·         Compliance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations

·         Implementation of innovative environmental initiatives above and beyond legal requirements

    ·         Submission of necessary plans and reports, e.g. Hazardous Materials and Waste Spill Response plans, Water Quality Action Plan, Solid Waste Generator Reports, Pollution Prevention Status Sheets, etc.

    ·         A demonstrated commitment to our environment and community
2017 Environmental Excellence Award Winners

    ·         Waste Reduction and Recycling Award – The Betty Brigade

·         Water Quality Protection Award – Saline Environmental Commission

    ·         Pollution Prevention Award – Lambert Industries, Inc.

    ·         Overall Award Winner – Zingerman's Community of Businesses
For more information on the Washtenaw County Pollution Prevention Program, visit: www.ewashtenaw.org/p2

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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