Tuesday, September 23, 2014

California Environmental Reporting System (CERS)

(c) Susie Vowell
Any business that has to handle and store hazardous materials has a responsibility to make sure they are doing so responsibly and in a way that meets all current regulations.  For those that store above certain thresholds of hazardous materials, that includes having a Hazardous Materials Business Plan (HMBP) and submitting it to your regulator.  In California that requires using an electronic submittal portal, either one supplied by the individual CUPA in some cases, but in most cases, it means the California Environmental Reporting System, or CERS.

What is CERS?  “The California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) is a statewide web-based system to support California Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) and Participating Agencies (PAs) in electronically collecting and reporting various hazardous materials-related data as mandated by the California Health and Safety Code and new 2008 legislation (AB 2286). Under oversight by Cal/EPA, CUPAs implement Unified Program mandates that streamline and provide consistent regulatory activities.” (CERS Central website) Yikes.  In much simpler terms that even I can understand, CERS is an electronic submittal program that allows businesses to submit their HMBPs and some other environmental reporting documents, and keep those submittals updated or certify annually that there have been no changes.

Submittals to CERS include hazardous materials business plans, chemical inventories, site maps, underground and aboveground tank data, and hazardous waste related data.  Any business that is regulated by a CUPA and needs to submit such documents must do so electronically using CERS or the individual CUPA reporting portal if they have one.  Paper forms cannot be submitted.  The local CUPA reporting portals and CERS are supposed to communicate and swap data, but that aspect of the program still has some issues.  Your local CUPA is not supposed to require you to submit to their local reporting tool rather than CERS, but you might find that has issues as well.

If you’ve never used CERS before, it’s really not very hard.  There are lots of training resources available on the website, and if you still have questions, I’d be more than happy to help.  You can contact me via my WeWork4Water website, LinkedIn, or e-mail me at patrick.vowell@wework4water.com .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

California’s Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) System

Hazardous materials management and hazardous waste management in California can be an undertaking that spans multiple regulatory authorities across many levels of government, making it a daunting task. The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) seeks to simplifyy that process a bit by consolidating many of those functions under the umbrella of the Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPA).
CUPAs are usually a county or city health department or fire department that has gone through the process of applying to and being approved by Cal/EPA for status as the CUPA.  These local government agencies are responsible for implementing the standards set by the state agencies responsible for the following six programs:

  •  Hazardous Materials Release Response Plans and Inventories (Business Plans),
  • California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) Program,
  • Underground Storage Tank Program,
  • Above-ground Petroleum Storage Act,
  • Hazardous Waste Generator and Onsite Hazardous Waste Treatment (tiered permitting) Programs,
  • California Uniform Fire Code: Hazardous Material Management Plans and Hazardous Material Inventory Statements.
One of the big benefits of this program is the need for only one permit to cover any and all of these programs, rather than having to track multiple permits.  Other benefits come from having one agency doing inspections, rather than multiple agencies that may have mutually exclusive perspectives for a given requirement; a single fee structure, which should end up being less expensive theoretically; and the need to only submit forms and other information one time to one agency, rather than submitting the same information to multiple entities.

You can learn a great deal more about CUPAs from the Cal/EPA Unified Program Home [http://www.calepa.ca.gov/cupa/ ].  You can also look up who the CUPA is for any location by using the Unified Program Regulator Directory.  Other good sources of information on the topic include the California CUPA Forum, and Unidocs , which is an extensive collection of information dealing with hazardous materials.

Next time we’ll take a look at the still relatively new reporting system for Unified Program required information, the California Environmental Reporting System, or CERS.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Complying with California's New Hexavalent Chromium Regulation

California, always striving to be at the forefront of just about everything, is now the first state in the US to implement a drinking water regulation for hexavalent chromium, or chrome 6.  Even though the regulation remains hotly contested, it is now the law.  So what does that mean to water quality professionals and operators in the field?  Let’s take a look at the regulation and see.

The new regulation went into effect on July 1, 2014. That’s the same day that responsibility for the drinking water program in the state transferred from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water (DDW). CDPH sent out a letter on June 20 that had a good overview of the regulation. You can get a copy of the most recently updated drinking water related regulations from the still functioning CDPH  website, or you can download a copy of it here. Chrome 6, or hexavalent chromium as they have it listed, is included with the other regulated inorganic contaminants starting at the bottom of page 109.  The approved method for analysis is EPA Method 218.6 or 218.7, and a list of laboratories approved to run these methods as of May 22, 2014 is available here.  Make sure you call and talk to whatever lab you chose just to make sure they are currently certified and what their sample submission guidelines are.

Although the regulation takes effect July 1, §64432(b) states “…each community and nontransient-noncommunity water system shall initiate monitoring for an inorganic chemical within six months following the effective date of the regulation…”, so you have until the end of the year to take your initial sample. If you've already taken samples, §64432(b)(1) allows you to use data collected in the previous two years as your initial sampling, so chrome 6 data from July 1, 2012 thru June 30, 2014 can be used if you so desire. You would just have to go back and ask your lab to upload it to the state database to make sure it’s been entered as compliance data.  You would also need to make sure the samples had been analyzed using one of the appropriate methods, because if they weren't they won’t be acceptable as compliance data.

Alternately, §64432(b)(2) of the regulation allows you to use total chromium data in lieu of chrome 6 data if your total chromium results are below the total chrome detection limit for purposes of reporting (DLR) of 0.010 mg/L.  The logic there is since chrome 6 is included as a part of the total chromium analysis, if total chrome is below 0.010 mg/L, then chrome 6 must be as well.

The regulation allows you to collect samples at the source or at the entry point to the distribution system.  §64432(e) states “Samples shall be collected from each water source or a supplier may collect a minimum of one sample at every entry point to the distribution system which is representative of each source after treatment.” It’s a good idea to discuss with you local DDW office where you want your compliance point to be, and be sure to sample from the same location every time.

Like most inorganics, the initial monitoring will determine your subsequent monitoring schedule.  §64432(j) states, “If a system using groundwater has collected a minimum of two quarterly samples or a system using approved surface water has collected a minimum of four quarterly samples and the sample results have been below the MCL, the system may apply to the Department for a reduction in monitoring frequency.”  Compliance with the MCL will be determined on a running annual average (RAA) of 4 quarters of data.  If you take more than one sample per quarter, the average of the samples for that quarter will be used in calculating the RAA.

There is a provision in the regulation (§64432(f) on the bottom of page 112) for any inorganic contaminant that allows you to composite up to 5 wells. However, you have to get approval from CDPH for such a plan, and it is based in part on 3 years of historical data.  I’m guessing that with the political nature of chrome 6, the newly minted DDW may not want to venture down this road. 

So what are the options if you have wells over the MCL? There are various forms of treatment, which of course are all very costly. Best available technologies (BAT) for chrome 6 are coagulation/filtration; ion exchange; or reverse osmosis.  All of these have quite high capital and operational expenses. I think systems with a mix of wells, some over the MCL and some under, need to look long and hard at blending. If you’re wells are scattered that means installing dedicated transmission mains, which is costly and disruptive. But I think when you do a cost analysis on how much treatment is going to cost, looking at both capital and operations, you might find that installing transmissions mains, even long ones, to facilitate blending doesn't look so bad.

That’s a general overview of the new regulation, and a synopsis of compliance issues to be aware of. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me and ask. You can always contact me via LinkedIn or e-mail at patrick.vowell@wework4water.com. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

SWRCB Proposing Mandatory Outdoor Water Conservation for All Californians

State Water Resources Control Board This is a message from the State Water Resources Control Board.

This message is to notify interested parties of the availability of the attached Proposed Emergency Regulations pertaining to the Prohibition of Activities and Mandatory Actions During the Drought Emergency; Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking; Emergency Regulations Digest; and Fact Sheet.

This item will be considered at the July 15, 2014 State Water Board meeting.  The State Water Board is particularly interested in hearing comments on the applicability of the proposed regulations to wholesale water suppliers, as well as comments pertaining to other aspects of the proposed regulations.

For more information about the Board meeting please refer to the July 15, 2014 agenda that is available at:  http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/board_info/calendar

Related files:

  1. Proposed Emergency Regulations pertaining to the Prohibition of Activities and Mandatory Actions During the Drought Emergency
  2. Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking
  3. Emergency Regulations Digest
  4. Fact Sheet

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why I Worry About Advanced Oxidation Water Treatment

Advanced oxidation processes are becoming more prevalent in wastewater, recycled water, and drinking water treatment. There is no doubt that these processes are very effective at treating a wide range of otherwise difficult to treat for chemicals from whatever source you start with. But what happens to the chemicals we are treating for when we use advanced oxidation? And could we be creating a bigger problem than we started with?


Advanced oxidation (AO) refers to treatment to remove chemicals by oxidation through reactions with hydroxyl radicals.  Most commonly, this is achieved by the addition of either ozone (O3) or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and then exposure to UV light.  The process is very effective; if you have a given chemical in your source and then treat it by an AO process and re-test it, the chemical will be found at a greatly reduced level or even be completely gone.  But where did it go?  This is not an adsorptive process like ion exchange or treatment with GAC; the chemical is not being physically removed from the water. The Law of Conservation of Mass, as well as common sense, dictates that it cannot simply disappear. And AO treatment does not break chemicals down all the way to their individual atomic constituents. So what’s really happening?

The AO process simply changes the chemical into something else.  Usually, a chemical is broken down into smaller chemicals, although that is not always the case.  Sometimes its form is simply modified.  So what you end up with after advanced oxidation is not contaminant free water.  You have simply traded one contaminant for one or more others.  That is the point at which I start to worry about the AO process.  To oversimplify, the AO process takes one contaminant that we may or may not understand the toxicity of, and modifies it into one or more different contaminants that we probably know even less about.

Some research has been done on this issue, but not nearly enough.  One group of researchers show how the cancer drug cyclophosphamide (1), when treated by AO, has as its main reaction product 4-ketocyclophosphamide.  You can see from the chemical structures in Figure 1 that the reaction product is not much changed from the parent compound.

 If you analyzed your water after treatment, it would appear the cyclophosphamide had gone, which it has, but only to be replaced by a very similar compound.  Is that good? Is the water after treatment more protective of the environment and of public health?  I don’t think we have any idea, which is exactly the point.

Another excellent paper that came out in 2007 in The Journal of the International Ozone Association (2) reviews the knowledge of a wide range of compounds and how they react in the AO process. In the paper, the authors state “In some cases, disappearance of parent pharmaceutical compounds does not indicate successful treatment because the degraded products may be as biologically active as the parent compounds.”  The degraded products may be as biologically active as the parent compounds.  Or they may not.  Or we may have absolutely no idea if they are or not, so we may have no idea whether what we are considering treatment isn’t itself a source of contamination. 

In the same paper, one of the compounds reviewed is carbamazepine, a widely used anticonvulsant that “has been found ubiquitously in the aquatic environment.”  The reaction products of carbamazepine after AO are several, and have names far too long for me to type out here. But the authors recognized that these reaction products were “polycyclic heteroaromatics known to be toxic to aquatic organisms.”  Are they more or less toxic than the carbemazapine itself? Do they have synergistic effects that cause them to be more toxic working together than separately? Again, we just don’t know.


Just this year, a paper was published describing a new tool that is available to try and answer the question of how compounds break down when subjected to AO. In the ACS Journal Environmental Science & Technology, Xin Guo, et al (3) gives the basis for a model that can be used to “predict the degradation mechanisms and fates of intermediates and byproducts produced during aqueous-phase advanced oxidation processes for various organic compounds.”  That’s sounds like a great tool that those who implement these processes should look into to help predict what’s actually happening during treatment.

AO is a promising technique that has proven applications in many water treatment scenarios, whether you’re dealing with wastewater, drinking water, or water recycling.  But a great deal more study needs to be done to make sure we aren’t creating bigger problems than we currently have.  I call upon all of those involved in the issue, manufacturers, end users, and industry associations like AWWA, WRF, and WEF, to support the investment needed for research into these questions.

1)                  Hernandez C, Fernandez LA, Bataller M, Lopez A, Veliz E, Ledea O, Alvarez C, Besada V, Cyclophosphamide degradation by ozoneunder advanced oxidation process conditions, IOA 17th World Ozone Congress, Strasbourg, 2005, VI.3.2-1-11

2)                  Ikehata, K.; Naghashkar, N.J.; Ei-Din, M.G. Degradation of aqueous pharmaceuticals by ozonation and advanced oxidationprocesses: A review. Ozone Sci. Eng. 2006, 28, 353–414.

3)                  Computer-Based First-Principles Kinetic Modelingof Degradation Pathways and Byproduct Fates in Aqueous-Phase Advanced OxidationProcesses, Xin Guo, Daisuke Minakata, Junfeng Niu, and John Crittenden; Environmental Science & Technology 2014 48 (10), 5718-5725

Thursday, June 5, 2014

California’s Hexavalent Chromium MCL Set To Take Effect July 1 – Or Is It?

On May 28, 2014, California’s Office of Administrative Law approved the hexavalent chromium regulation initially proposed in 2013 for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 ug/L.  The rule was filed with the Secretary of State the next day, and is now set to take effect on July 1.  Read up on the history of the rulemaking process, and see the California Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Chromium-6 in Drinking Water: MCL Update web page for more information on the rule itself.

This rulemaking process has been even more politically charged than usual, with intense pressure from public opinion fueled by often misleading journalism (see Why I Think California’s Proposed Hexavalent Chromium Drinking Water MCL May Do More Harm Than Good.).  But there may yet be hope for those of us who wish to see science, and not political whimsy, guide the implementation of drinking water standards.  The California Manufacturers & TechnologyAssociation (CMTA) and the Solano County Taxpayers Association (SCTA) filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate in the Superior Court of California, Sacramento on May 29, the same day the rule was being filed with the Secretary of State, over the newly proposed MCL (Solano taxpayer group files suit against state on water standards).

The case, #34-2014-80001850, which you can download a copy of here, asks that: 
  1. "A peremptory writ of mandate issue, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, Health and Safety Code sections 116365 and 116365.5, and Government Code sections 11342.2, 11346.3, and 11346.9, ordering Respondent to withdraw the current MCL and to promulgate instead a new MCL at a level that is economically feasible;"
  2. In the alternative, that an alternative writ of mandate be issued, exparte, ordering Respondent to request that OEHHA review the PHG as required by 116365(e)(1) or, in the alternative, to show cause why a peremptory writ of mandate should not issue."
The petitioners give 5 grounds for issuance of the writ: 
  1. “DPH (Department of Public Health)failed to comply with its mandatory statutory duties to (a) determine the economic feasibility of compliance with the proposed MCL, (b) base the MCL on the economic feasibility of compliance, and (c) to consider the costs of compliance to public water systems, customers, and other affected parties, including the cost per customer and aggregate cost of compliance, using best available technology.”
  2. “Despite acknowledging that the national MCL for chromium is the national primary drinking water standard adopted by the U.S. EPA to address exposures to hexavalent chromium, DPH failed and refused to consider the national standard in its adoption of the California hexavalent chromium MCL, as required by Health and Safety Code section 116365, subdivision (b)(2).”
  3. “DPH violated its clear, present, and mandatory obligation under Government Code section I 1346.9, subdivision (a)(3), to substantively respond to all relevant public comments…”
  4. “DPH failed to comply with its clear, present, and mandatory duty under Government Code section 11346.3 to assess the potential for adverse economic impact on California business enterprises and individuals, avoiding the imposition of unnecessary or unreasonable regulations or reporting, recordkeeping, or compliance requirements.”
  5. “In issuing the hexavalent chromium MCL based on a PHG that is based on obsolete science, DPH exceeded its quasi-legislative authority to promulgate MCLs that are reasonably necessary to effectuate the purpose of the SDWA and that are consistent with the SDWA. DPH has not adopted an MCL consistent with the SDWA's statutory requirements that the MCL be based on a PHG that, in turn, is based on current scientific data, evaluated using the most current scientific principles, practices, and methods.” 
Certainly the crux of the issue against the regulation is that the Public Health Goal (PHG) that the MCL is based on was itself based upon a faulty toxicological analysis.  More recent studies show that hexavalent chromium is not nearly as toxic as originally thought, and support the argument that DPH has rushed into this regulation at the expense of the people of California. 

Hopefully the Superior Court of California will take this matter into consideration quickly and put a stop to implementation of a grossly unfair regulation that provides no protection of public health.




Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I Think California’s Proposed Hexavalent Chromium Drinking Water MCL May Do More Harm Than Good.

Due to intense political pressure brought about by various interests and a huge case of media fueled confusion, California is on the brink of implementing a hexavalent chromium (chrome 6) drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 ug/L.  This is 5 times lower than the current total chromium MCL in California of 50 ug/L, which is itself half of the Federal MCL of 100 ug/L for total chromium.  There is no Federal hexavalent chromium MCL.  The MCL was based on the California Public Health Goal. Using ambiguous and arguable science, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) set a PHG of 0.02 ug/L.  “The PHG for chromium 6 is 0.02 parts per billion (ppb), which is the estimated “one in one million” lifetime cancer risk level. This means that for every million people who drink two liters of water with that level of chromium 6 daily for 70 years, no more than one person would be expected to develop cancer from exposure to chromium 6. The “one-in-one million” risk level is widely accepted by doctors and scientists as the “negligible risk” standard.” (From the OEHHA chrome 6 PHG fact sheet.) 

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) currently sets MCLs in California, although that’s about to change; see California Drinking Water Reorganization Transition Plan on the WeWork4Water Blog.  “MCLs take into account not only chemicals health risks but also factors such as their detectability and treatability, as well as costs of treatment.  (California) Health & Safety Code §116365(a) requires CDPH to establish a contaminant's MCL at a level as close to its PHG as is technologically and economically feasible, placing primary emphasis on the protection of public health.” (From the CDPH MCLs and PHGs web page.)  There are two places in this statement where the process for chrome 6 got problematic: CDPH has underestimated the incidence of occurrence and thus the cost of treatment; and in that last phrase, placing primary emphasis on the protection of public health.  If the emphasis is on doing the most good for public health, then the proposed MCL will be a disservice to the residents of California. Why?  Because the cost/benefit analysis just doesn’t pencil out, and the excessive costs will negatively impact the health of the general public, particularly those at lower socio-economic levels.

CDPH is required to take into account the cost of treatment when they propose a new MCL.  That analysis requires two basic pieces of information: One, how often does chrome 6 occur and at what levels; and two, how much does it cost to treat those sources that are at or near the MCL. The analysis that CDPH conducted significantly underestimated the occurrence of chrome 6, and thus the number of sources that will require treatment at the proposed MCL.  It also underestimated the cost of treatment for those sources that require it.  Both of these parameters, fortunately, have been reviewed independently by researchers who are leaders in the field.  Technical Review of the Occurrence Analysis Supporting the DraftHexavalent Chromium MCL by California Department of Public Health from the Jacobs Group, Dr. Christopher Corwin and Dr. Chad Seidel reviews occurrence data.  According to this analysis, the number of sources that will require treatment is 437% higher than estimated by CDPH at 1,360 sources.  Small systems serving less than 200 service connections, which are least likely to be able to pay for treatment, account for 71% of the systems impacted, with 46% of the sources.  Review of CDPH’s Economic Analysis Supporting the Draft California MCLfor Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water by Dr. Issam Najm reviews the costs associated with treatment.  Dr. Najm calculates that the total cost of treatment will go as high as $4.1 billion dollars, or nearly 5 times what CDPH estimated at $871 million.  And remember, the bulk of the $4.1 billion will be borne on the backs of water systems serving less than 200 connections, very few if any of whom will be able to pay for it.

The incredible costs associated with treating for this compound will result in several significant issues.  One result will be a situation similar to what California already faces in regard to compliance with the nitrate and arsenic MCLs, where many small systems continue to serve their customers water that does not meet one or the other of these standards because the water system can’t afford the cost of treatment.  Many of these small systems serve communities that are seriously economically disadvantaged, so raising rates to pay for new treatment is not an option; their customers simply would not be able to pay.  In this case, you will end up with some people who continue to drink the water from their tap, because it’s all they have.  Others will spend whatever limited funds are available to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking, thus decreasing the discretionary funds they may have had and negatively impacting their economic status even further.

In water systems that are a bit larger, with a mix of customers in different socio-economic strata, there may be more resources to deal with the situation.  These systems will likely install treatment, resulting in very large increases in rates.  Examples of California water systems in such a situation are those in Watsonville, which estimates that rates will increaseby 78% to cover the costs of treatment; and the Coachella Valley Water District, which estimates bills will go up by $50 per month.  Those kinds of rate increases will also significantly impact the discretionary funds available for many consumers.

Do a Google search, or use whatever your search engine of choice is, and look up “socioeconomic status and health care”, and you’ll get back more results than you can possibly read all saying the same thing: the lower a person’s socioeconomic status, the lower their general health and life expectancy. I don’t think that will be a surprise to anyone.  The less income you have, the less access you have to healthcare, the less likely you’ll be to have access to healthy eating choices, and the more likely you are to develop a whole list of serious health issues.  The amount of money people in already compromised circumstances will have to pay for higher water bills or to buy bottled water if this chrome 6 MCL is implemented will reduce the amount of money they have for healthcare and good food, thus reducing their overall health more than could ever possibly be made up for by reducing the level of chrome 6 in their drinking water.  It will be a net loss in terms of overall health protection for a very large segment of the population.


As a water quality professional, I think everyone is entitled to clean, safe drinking water. Where the problem lies is in defining what that means. It doesn’t mean water that has absolutely nothing else in it but H2O molecules. That would be impossible, and probably cause its own adverse health effects. So the issue is in finding a balance. Just because we can measure something analytically doesn’t mean it should be regulated. The diminishing returns between what little health benefit such a regulation might bring needs to be carefully weighed against the harm it might cause through other impacts to people’s lives. California’s proposed chrome 6 regulation is just such a situation where the negative impacts to the state’s population will outweigh any benefits.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to leave a comment.  Or feel free to send me one at patrick.vowell@wework4water.com