Monday, November 17, 2014

SUCCESS Framework: DEQ Committed to Continuous Improvement


By: Renette Anderson and Scott Baird


The scientists and engineers at DEQ are data-driven and naturally curious. They measure air, surface and ground waters, and land impact from pollutants. Ask any one of them about his or her work, and each can quote statistics in orders of magnitude or parts per billion, whichever applies.
It’s a perfect environment for continuous improvement.
DEQ has been involved in performance system improvements since the early 1990s when the organization embraced Total Quality Management. Improvements happen here in various ways, from an easily implemented idea at the staff level to more formal improvements generated by stakeholder groups, mini-Kaizens, and the Success Framework model.

Currently, our staff is engaged in the following continuous improvement projects:  
  1. Examining permitting and plan approval practices in multiple divisions to help
    Oil and gas well data. Image courtesy of gis.utah.gov
    applicants submit complete information at the beginning of the permitting process and reduce unnecessary bottlenecks during plan and permit review.
  2. Finding ways to better coordinate compliance inspections through the use of mapping tools.
  3. Watching trends and looking for opportunities to improve compliance rates with regulatory requirements through education and outreach.
These efforts are paying off:
  1. The tank program is spending less money per compliant facility – from $312.69 per facility in March 2012, to $277.00 per facility in September 2014. That’s a cost savings of almost $36.00 per facility.
  2. By replacing a paper permit application system with an online process, staff hours spent issuing storm water permits dropped from 3,160 hours in FY2011 to 292 hours in FY14. During the same time frame, the number of permits issued increased from 1,580 to 2,426.
  3. By working with stakeholders, we’re learning to communicate expectations more clearly so that plans or permits submitted to DEQ are more complete and require less back-and-forth communication between the applicant and project manager.
Because DEQ has been committed to continuous improvement for some time, we generally see incremental changes rather than dramatic results. These changes add up over time, however, and help us meet our responsibility to the environment and Utah taxpayers.
At DEQ, we give both our best.

Want to learn more about continuous improvement at DEQ? Check out our series of 2014 blogs that highlight our SUCCESS Framework projects. Read about the tracking used by the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR) to increase the number of owners meeting tank requirements, learn how new technology helps the Division of Radiation Control speed up X-Ray inspections, see how the Division of Drinking Water utilizes electronic data entry to streamline the sanitary survey process, learn how air quality inspectors collaborate with the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM) to locate oil and gas sites, and discover the ways DERR’s Interactive Map facilitates public access to environmental documents.
Renette: I chair the continuous improvement team at DEQ, serve as the local-health liaison, and teach and arrange for leadership development workshops. I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from the University of Utah and a Master’s degree in Organizational Communication from Brigham Young University. In my spare time, I do volunteer work with children and take every opportunity to enjoy a good meal and spirited conversations with friends.

Scott: As the Director of Legislative and Government affairs, I work with legislators and stakeholders on pending legislation as well as promoting the great work that our Department does. Prior to joining DEQ, I worked in the Governor's Office in Utah and Washington and with Deloitte Consulting in D.C., where I helped state and federal agencies identify and implement opportunities to improve. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Brigham Young University and my Masters in Public Administration (MPA) and JD degrees from Syracuse University. I LOVE to get outdoors and enjoy SKIING, running, hiking, camping, working in the yard, fixing up our broken-down house, and anything else I can convince my wife and four daughters to do with me.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“Dear Donna:” Here to Answer Your Environmental Questions


By: Donna Kemp Spangler

 

As the Communications Director for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, I often get letters from constituents with questions about Utah’s environment. Some questions can be answered easily. Others require technical experts. Some simply don’t fall under DEQ’s regulatory authority. Here’s a sample of some of the more interesting questions, suggestions, and comments that have made their way to the “Dear Donna” desk.

Dear Donna,

Contrails. Image courtesy of nasa.gov    
“I’m concerned about the chemtrails being sprayed not only over our state but over the entire country. If you are not familiar with chemtrails, would you please take a few minutes to research and discover for yourself exactly how toxic these chemtrails are. When the planes are not too high the spraying apparatus is visible with a good pair of binoculars proving the trails are not contrails. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

Dear Constituent,

“I appreciate your interest and will have someone look into this issue. As I understand from our scientists, these are normal contrails, but I will look into any scientific evidence to support their existence.”

Dear Donna,

“I am writing with an idea for moving the inversion air (pollution) out of the valley. The idea is to install giant fans along the Oquirrh Mountains. In the winter, when we have the inversion, the fans could move the air. Then when we didn’t need them for that purpose, they could be switched so the wind could rotate the fans to produce electricity.”

Dear Constituent,

“A variation of your idea about wind power to blow out the pollution has been studied before. In fact, a University of Utah professor has looked into this and found that it isn’t technically feasible because it would take all the power from the Western grid to blow away the pollution in one day alone.”

Dear Donna,

Image courtesy of policyalmanac.org
“I have been a little mift (sic) over the business of air pollution. Coming up with solutions to curb the so-called “bad ozone” is really a bogus suggestion...The division of air quality in Utah and anywhere else in the U.S. A. probably know of its ability to deplete pollutants in the air but feed the public false information and conclude their own solution by emission testing… Do you understand? You and the rest of the Utah Legislators have been duped and preyed on with panic propaganda. I don’t trust the U.S. government to regulate anything because they always want something in return.”

Dear Constituent,

“Accurately monitoring and controlling ozone in the lower troposphere is of paramount importance to public health. Ozone forms naturally in the lower stratosphere where it blocks harmful solar radiation from reaching Earth’s surface. You are accurate in your assertion of the cleansing qualities ozone has on atmospheric pollution...However, excessive ozone concentrations in the lower troposphere have very significant negative effects on human health.”


I welcome your questions and concerns. If I don’t have the answer to your question, I will find someone at DEQ who can help. Please submit your questions and comments to deqinfo@utah.gov managed by my Communications Office. Better yet, feel free to comment on this blog.


I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at dequtah.blogspot.com.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Hazardous Waste: Cleaning Up a Legacy of Chemical Waste


By: Dave Larsen


Can you think of a nice name for huge piles of waste from the demilitarization and testing of chemical agent bombs, projectiles, and other munitions? The U.S. Army likes to call this “legacy waste,” and it includes thousands of munitions that were disposed of on the ground or buried at Army facilities in Utah, including the Tooele Army Depot-South (TEAD-S).

Excavation of buried munitions 
TEAD-S is located about 30 miles southwest of Salt Lake City in the Rush Valley near Stockton, Utah. From the early 1940s to the 1980s, TEAD-S’s mission was to maintain and store chemical munitions in igloos (earthen and concrete bunkers) and other areas at the facility. The early mission also included some crude demilitarization, like open burning and detonation, as well as burial of old chemical weapons. From the late 1980s to 2014, the primary mission of TEAD-S was destroying the 44 percent of the nation’s chemical munitions stockpile stored at the facility. A demilitarization test facility and full-scale chemical weapons demilitarization incinerator were constructed to accomplish this. In August 2014, the Army successfully completed destruction of all the chemical munitions that had been held in storage.

Along with the destruction of chemical weapons stockpile, TEAD-S was required to conduct investigations and clean up as much of their legacy waste as safety conditions allowed. Although the waste on the ground surface can be carefully removed, worker safety usually precludes excavation of buried chemical and conventional munitions. This means the buried munitions are aptly named - legacy waste.

Area after removal of munitions
The Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste (DSHW) has been working with the Army through its Corrective Action Program to remediate this legacy waste at TEAD-S. Corrective Actions (CA) ensure that facilities deal with these wastes properly to minimize harm to the public and the environment.

The project to clean up this buried waste began about three years ago, and we anticipate that the majority of the work will be completed in Spring 2015. Work has included the surface removal of thousands of demilitarized munitions, drums, and other wastes at TEAD-S. The project removal sites are known as solid waste management units (SWMUs). Two of the larger sites are SWMUs 1 and 25, which occupy an area of about 1,500 acres and contain over 100 disposal pits and widespread surface contamination.

Mustard mortar pile at TEAD-S
One of more difficult parts of the project was removal of a pile of mortars. This pile included over 50,000 mustard mortars, most of which had been demilitarized more than 50 years ago. As the Army’s explosive ordnance and disposal (EOD) experts inspected each mortar, they discovered that some of the mortars still contained mustard. These mustard-filled munitions were placed in an igloo at TEAD-S for later destruction.

This project is one of the larger ones I’ve worked on in my 25-year career as a project manager/geologist at DEQ. The project team includes the US Army and their EOD experts, Army contractors, chemical agent monitoring and safety experts, and staff from DSHW. Our involvement includes review and approval of workplans and reports, weekly site visits, and soil and groundwater sampling. The team meets monthly to review project progress.


Want to learn more about Corrective Actions? Check out the EPA website for information about the program. Curious about some of the projects we are working on in Utah? The EPA maintains a list of sites in Utah and the progress made on Corrective Actions in the state. You can find a short history of chemical agents at the Depot on the U.S. Army Chemical Materials webpage.


During my career at DEQ I have seen the importance of our work in helping protect and maintain a sustainable environment and how a good project team helps meet this goal. I also appreciate the opportunities employment at DEQ has offered me. I have been on military helicopters hunting for SWMUs, visited the chemical weapons incinerator on the Johnston atoll in Pacific, threatened with jail time for trying to take a photo at an Army base, fired a 155 mm white phosphorus round from a cannon at Marine base at 29 Palms in California, held a newly poured brick of gold at a Barrick mine, and had many other great experiences with my friends and colleagues at DEQ. I have been married to my wife Pam for 28 years, and we have four kids ages 26, 24, 19 and 15. Pam is an attorney and Director of Legal Services for an insurance company. We enjoy skiing, hiking and doing volunteer work for the Ronald McDonald House.

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