Climate Change Leaves Its Mark on Chemical Safety: Amending the Clean Water Act

chemical safety
A contentious amendment to the Clean Water Act expands on the EPA’s ability to keep our waterways free of chemicals. What does this mean for company chemical safety guidelines?
Image source: Flickr CC user Matt Berlin

Established in 1972, the Clean Water Act expanded on guidelines set forth by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can create industry standards for wastewater and water contaminants. In addition, it also requires that a permit must be obtained in order to dispose of pollutants into navigable waters.

As you can imagine, it’s the last one that remains a point of contention1. In a 2006 ruling, the Supreme Court ultimately sided with a Michigan developer who paved over wetland without securing a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The majority split decision limited the EPA’s regulatory abilities when it came to our waterways and even worse, left lower courts in confusion because of conflicting interpretations.

But last month, the Obama administration sought to clarify that confusion by introducing an amendment to the Clean Water Act. Dubbed the Clean Water Rule, the new guidelines address what are known as temporary waterways2: seasonal streams and tributaries that appear and disappear depending on rain, snowmelt and other factors. Under the amendment, the Clean Water Act would protect any tributary displaying features of flowing water, whether or not the body of water flows consistently throughout the year.

These temporary waterways are not insignificant. Estimates say they make up roughly 60% of streams in the United States and one third of the population gets their drinking water from these sources. Another reason for protecting these seasonal tributaries comes from climate change, which has brought increased droughts. When there are drought conditions, water levels drop and lead to concentrated chemical pollutants. Hardly ideal.

Effective Steps for Water and Chemical Safety

While a battle appears to be shaping up3 over the passage of the Clean Water Rule, companies can nevertheless take steps to ensure proper chemical safety in order to protect our waterways.

  • Proper Chemical Storage: While storing chemicals appropriately is paramount for anyone, it’s especially important for companies with access to our waterways. No one wants a repeat of the Elk River chemical spill. Not only should firms follow chemical safety guidelines and store chemicals in their proper containers, they also need to know the location of those containers. An inventory system with barcode capability would allow users to track chemicals throughout their lifespan, from receipt to disposal.
  • Proper Wastewater Disposal: Obviously, we shouldn’t pour chemicals down the drain. That’s definitely not accepted protocol, and the last thing we need to do is add more pollutants to our water run-off. That said, most chemicals come with information describing how to dispose of their waste byproducts. Sometimes it is something as simple as neutralizing them. If it’s something more complicated, it’s more likely that you’ll need to contact your company’s chemical safety department to handle disposal. Regardless of what it is, the correct procedures should be followed in order to preserve one of our most precious resources: fresh drinking water.
  • Proper Compliance: New guidelines invariably come hand in hand with inspections. Among the things officials often ask for are a list of chemical inventory along with expiration dates. When it comes to clean water protection, it’s also likely that they will ask for location and then ask you to actually show them your firm’s chemical safety storage containers. I’ve been through many inspections. Trust me — this happens. That’s why it’s imperative to maintain good, up-to-date records, so you won’t be caught by surprise by regulatory officials.

While we’re still in the 60-day waiting period before the amendment to the Clean Water Act goes into effect, companies can prepare for the changes by ensuring they follow proper chemical safety guidelines. Even if the proposed Clean Water Rule is ultimately overturned, firms can (and should) still adopt best practices to protect our waterways. Climate change is a real thing, unfortunately, and we’re seeing its effects in ways beyond rising temperatures and changing weather patterns. We need to ensure we have fresh, clean water for the generations to come.

Are you interested in learning how to improve your company’s chemical safety when it comes to storage and wastewater disposal? Are you simply interested in ways to bolster regulatory compliance? Contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA CISPro, a chemical management system that can address all those needs and more.

  1. “EPA’s Amphibious Attack,” May 27, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/epas-amphibious-attack-1432769456
  2. “Why the EPA wants to amend the Clean Water Act,” May 28, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/why-epa-wants-amend-clean-water-act-212327790.html
  3. “Clean Water Rule Polarizes Western Colorado,” May 27, 2015, http://www.westernslopenow.com/story/d/story/clean-water-rule-western-colorado-pollution-epa/21800/VivlDxVUMEm41Nr9te5G5A

7 thoughts on “Climate Change Leaves Its Mark on Chemical Safety: Amending the Clean Water Act

  1. One problem with the Clean Water Act is that even when companies are caught violating it, the EPA does not always impose fines that are enough to stop their behavior. Some companies find it cheaper to pollute and then pay a fine.

  2. Such an Act needs to be implemented in the country of India. The sacred Indian rivers which had very clean and pure water once are now heavily polluted. There is no control over water pollution caused by factories.

  3. Brian, that’s often a problem with legislation governing chemical regulation. Many times, they don’t seem to go far enough but based on what I’ve observed, there’s a real fear that too much regulation will kill these bills before they reach the Senate or House floor. It seems like we have to proceed with baby steps.

  4. Sreemoyi – In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need regulations to protect the environment. Unfortunately, they do seem to be a necessity sometimes.

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