Monday, August 18, 2014

It’s Your Backyard: Get Involved with DEQ Cleanups

By: Dave Allison

It’s always challenging working as a liaison with the public on abandoned hazardous waste sites in Utah through EPA’s Superfund program. Chances are you’ve probably never heard of CERCLA or Superfund until a site is designated within your community and it’s our job to make a very complex process more understandable.

The idea of having hazardous waste in your community can be troubling and the effects of such contamination vary from site to site. Serious concerns range from health impacts, property values, traffic and noise, decision making authority, and—believe it or not—the mistrust of government and industry. This is why the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR) staff makes every effort to ensure the regulatory and public involvement processes are explained to the community.

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Utah has 26 Superfund sites in various stages of completion and keeping the community involved has played a vital role in the decision-making process to clean up hazardous waste. We can’t emphasize how important it is for us to hear from the people living here, what they have to say and how they feel the cleanup is going to affect them.

We also have to communicate our decisions based on scientific data and executing a solid cleanup plan. The Superfund Process has built-in laws requiring minimum standards for informing and involving the public in cleanup actions. Utilizing a public notice, holding public meetings, and having comment periods with a response to comments are ways we do outreach.

However, we know from experience it takes more than producing documents and taking input to involve the community. It takes building relationships with residents, property owners, elected officials, health agencies, and other stakeholders to make sure the best cleanup decisions are made. Hearing and working with the community helps us do a better job with all technical aspects of DERR’s program because:
  • Information collected during public participation activities assists DERR and EPA with making better informed decisions about sites.
  • Providing information to the community about the site and engaging in serious discussion can reduce the potential for delays that might arise if the community objects, or does not understand DERR’s or EPA’s action or decision.
  • Providing opportunities for the community to get to know and interact with project staff helps establish and maintain DERR’s credibility within a community.
  • By establishing and regularly maintaining communication with the community, local officials, and partner government agencies helps ensure critical site information is disseminated in an accurate and timely manner.

We do a lot of things to involve the public to: 1) communicate what we are doing, 2) be transparent, and 3) listen to what the communities concerns are. These efforts result in building strong relationships of trust where we can support each other in the work we are doing. To implement a solution and have the people within the community empowered to make it happen is the best reward we can have as a program.

Did you know you can utilize DERR’s Interactive Map here to find out if you live near contaminated sites? For more information on cleanup and how to become involved, feel free to contact our program team by visiting our website:

I’m a Community Involvement Coordinator in the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR), which regulates contaminated sites. A Weber State University graduate in public relations and communication, I live in Ogden, with a patient wife, Mary, and an amazing 5-year old son, Barrett. I do some of my best thinking on morning runs and am on a quest to visit every Major League Ballpark.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Taking Clean Air Seriously by Riding the Rails

By: Donna Kemp Spangler

As promised in my last month’s blog, I parked my beloved convertible and faithfully took transit to work each and every day.

It wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. It didn’t stop me from meeting deadlines, disrupt my schedule, or slow me down all that much. Forgoing the momentary spontaneity of having a vehicle at a moment’s notice was not burdensome. I experienced a friendly, courteous UTA staff and clean and comfortable transit rides.

My commute from my Ogden home to DEQ’s Salt Lake City office consisted of a FrontRunner ride with a connection to the TRAX airport line, with a stop at the 1950 West North Temple station—adding roughly 35 minutes more to a one-way commute. During the month, I finished three novels, completed some work-related tasks, and met some great folks who live in my Ogden community. The rides home were quite a treat as I was able to tune out the distractions of the day by either reading a book or listening to music. By the time I made it home I was much more relaxed than being stuck in rush-hour traffic.

There were some downsides, too, as my husband points out. The daily tasks of picking up groceries and dry-cleaning and running other errands—which I had normally done when driving home—fell to him. (Not having to worry about those tasks was perhaps one reason I was so much more relaxed when I arrived home!)

This experience was all part of the statewide Clear the Air Challenge, a friendly month-long competition sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and embraced by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who challenged all state agencies to participate.

The Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Department of Health, and Utah Department of Workforce Services made it known they were going to dethrone Utah Department of Environmental Quality—last year’s runaway winner—as the top state agency to reduce the most single-occupant vehicle (SOV) trips and commuter miles.

Kudos to Workforce Services who managed to beat DEQ by more than 3,300 non-SOV trips. Workforce Services Director Jon S. Pierpont successfully rallied his staff to take on the challenge, and they set a high bar for DEQ’s comeback next year.

Workforce Services’ win is undeniably impressive. But I am even more impressed with DEQ Director Amanda Smith. On one particularly hot July day she rode her bike wearing dress slacks and high-heels. That deserves extra points.

Of course, the real winner is Utah’s air quality. My personal stats accounted for a total of 1,750 non-SOV miles. Participants logged more than 2.2 million alternative miles (e.g., biking, walking, carpooling, riding transit, trip chaining), sparing a combined 668 tons of smog-forming pollutants from fouling Utah’s air. Top participating organizations included Utah’s business community: Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, Questar, Overstock, and L3 Communications. Although not a direct competitor, the Utah Departmentof Public Safety rose to the top ranks, along with the University of Utah and the Salt Lake County Health Department.

Using mass transit was fun for me, and my commitment will certainly extend beyond the July challenge as I take public transit to work more often.

Visit DEQ’s air quality webpages for current conditions and forecasts, or download the UtahAir app on your smartphone. Consider the benefits of carpooling, riding transit or teleworking during voluntary air action days. I also encourage everyone to visit our clean air partner, Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), for simple tips on how to improve Utah’s air quality one day at a time.

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


Monday, August 11, 2014

Radiation: When Accidents Happen, the Public Can Be “In the Know”

By: Spencer Wickham

Let’s face it, accidents happen, and they happen when you least expect it. There are risks associated with almost everything we do. Whether the risks are breaking a bone or two from riding a dirt bike (I know this from personal experience), or getting your foot run over by a forklift in an industrial accident—learning from your own and other people’s mistakes is a good way to keep them from happening again.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seems to agree that learning from our mistakes is a good idea. The NRC is developing a program that will allow the public to access the database which records accidents involving radioactive materials.

The NRC began tracking nuclear material events in 1981. In 1993, NRC developed the Nuclear Materials Events Database (NMED) to track events involving radioactive materials. Maintained by the Idaho National Laboratory, the NMED database contains more than 22,000 records of radioactive materials incidents that have been reported by NRC licensees, non-licensees and Agreement States regulators since January 1990. While these reported events vary in severity, the majority of them are minor incidents that pose little or no risk to the public.

A nuclear moisture density gauge is used
to measure the density and inner structure
of the test material (e.g., asphalt).
NMED’s records include all non-commercial power reactor incidents and events involving radioactive material. Regulated licensees and Agreement States report the information to the NRC and include the basic description of each event, records of abnormal occurrences that could be a risk to the public, the radioactive material involved and type of event. The database includes nine categories of events, plus an "other" category for all other events:

A broken nuclear moisture density
gauge, which did not release any
radioactive material.
I’ve responded to several of these types of incidents since I started with the Division of Radiation Control (DRC). One accident that I remember well involved a nuclear moisture density gauge. These devices contain two radioactive sources—usually cesium and americium—and are used to determine the density of asphalt, soil and concrete. One Thursday afternoon, I received a call from an engineering company telling us that a gauge they were using had been run over by a soil grader. When I arrived on the scene, I interviewed personnel involved in the incident and performed contamination surveys. I was able to determine that no radioactive material had been released. Although minor incidents like this one occasionally happen on job sites, it is uncommon for radioactive material to be released.

The new NRC version of NMED will allow the public to learn about events like the one I described above. Other types of incidents—a pacemaker lost during shipment (loss of control), radiation to the wrong site during cancer treatment (medical), or a traffic accident involving a truck carrying X-ray equipment (transportation)—would also be retrievable from the database. Each incident provides the NRC with an opportunity to improve safety protocols to ensure that these unintentional releases remain the exception.

Accidents happen. But the folks at DRC work hard to make sure that they don’t; and if they do, that they don’t harm the public.

The public version of the NMED website will be available in the near future. Once the site is completed, you will be able to fill out and submit a self-registration form and establish your own username and password for future logins.

I am a University of Utah graduate and an Environmental Scientist at DEQ. In my free time, I like to stay active, and I enjoy riding dirt bikes, going to the gym, snowboarding, traveling, fishing and wakeboarding.