Next Gen – A Case Study in Advanced Monitoring and Data Transparency

Next Gen Introduction

The U.S. Environmental Protection hAgency's (EPA) Next Generation Compliance program, known as "Next Gen," has gained visibility and prominence in recent years. It represents a modern approach to compliance that takes advantage of new tools and new approaches to strengthen enforcement through an integrated strategy. The program consists of five interconnected components:1

Next Gen Components

  • Regulations and permits designed to be easier to implement, with the goal of improving compliance and environmental outcomes
  • Use and promotion of advanced emissions/pollutant detection technology so that regulated entities, the government, and the public can more easily see pollutant discharges, environmental conditions, and noncompliance
  • A shift toward electronic reporting to help make environmental reporting more accurate, complete,and efficient while helping EPA and co-regulators better manage information and improve effectiveness and transparency
  • Expanded transparency by making information more accessible to the public
  • Development and use of innovative enforcement approaches (e.g., data analytics and targeting)to achieve more widespread compliance

According to EPA, Next Gen is designed to improve the effectiveness of its compliance program. Although the approach is not an entirely new concept, the "Next Generation Compliance: Strategic Plan 2014 - 2017," published by EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance in October 2014, formalized EPA's movement toward Next Gen. The case study presented below demonstrates how Next Gen principles, especially advanced monitoring and transparency, can lead to air quality improvements, but can also identify new issues, leading to more violation notices, enforcement cases, and community awareness.

Southeast Chicago - Primed for Next Gen

The southeast side of Chicago has long been home to a significant number of industrial facilities. Among them are facilities that handle, process, or are involved in manufacturing a wide variety of solid materials: aggregates, solid fuels, raw materials used in various manufacturing operations, recyclables, and construction/demolition debris. Starting in 2012 and 2013, these facilities came under increased scrutiny as complaints of fugitive dust became more common and community groups pushed the City of Chicago and the regulatory agencies to investigate the impact of this fugitive dust on the community.

The community's awareness regarding local environmental issues may have been enhanced by the identification of a large segment of the southeast side of Chicago as an Environmental Justice area, because significant community outreach is a component of the Environmental Justice program. In fact, EPA has specifically documented2 environmental issues in southeast Chicago and publishes some of its information in Spanish to reach as much of the community as possible. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also engages in significant outreach activities in Environmental Justice areas such as southeast Chicago. The principles of Environmental Justice and the transparency component of Next Gen are very closely related.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has had longstanding State Implementation Plan (SIP) fugitive dust regulations, and USEPA and the City of Chicago have been significantly involved in environmental fugitive dust matters impacting southeast Chicago. In fact, in December 2013, the City of Chicago proposed its own rules regulating material storage and handling within city limits. These rules, which were finalized in March 2014, require, among other things, the development of a fugitive dust plan; a 10% opacity limit for fugitive dust emitting processes within the property line; no visible emissions beyond the property line; and various controls, design, and housekeeping practices. These rules also require monitoring of wind speed and PM10. Additionally, as a result of fugitive dust complaints, USEPA has issued a number of requests under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act requiring facilities on the southeast side of Chicago to install, operate, and maintain federal equivalent method (FEM) air quality monitors to measure PM10. PM10 is of interest because it represents that fraction of fugitive dust that can impact human health based on its capability to enter the respiratory tract.

The City of Chicago rule, and at least three data requests initiated by USEPA under Section 114 of the CAA, requires installation of a wind speed monitor and a minimum of four PM10 monitors (for example, one at each corner of the property). The installation and operation of these monitors is a significant undertaking. Due to the location of roads and obstructions, the placement of these PM10 monitors on compact, urban manufacturing sites can be extremely difficult. Additionally, the installation and operation of PM10 monitors can be costly, requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars to install and operate. However, with the continuous collection of PM10 data and the reporting of those data to USEPA (on a regular basis, in the case of a Section 114 request) and to the City of Chicago (upon triggering of an event as defined in the fugitive dust plan), the Next Gen principles of advanced monitoring and transparency are realized and put into practice.

PM10 and Metals Monitoring - What Has Happened

Next Gen Image 2

From the PM10 and weather monitoring data collected, and from analysis of the filters from federal reference method (FRM) monitors (USEPA, in its Section 114 requests, has also required FRM monitoring, to collect data to speciate the PM10 constituents), it was determined that several heavy metal species were present in quantities above detection limits, including manganese. The manganese concentration was also measured at a monitor at a facility allegedly exceeding the inhalation minimal risk level for chronic exposure to manganese.3 Given that the materials stored at this specific facility contained only trace amounts of manganese, and based on prevailing wind direction data (collected from the facility weather monitor) as well as the proximity of adjacent facilities to the monitor, USEPA started to investigate the source of PM10 and manganese emissions that could be impacting the monitor, including other nearby southeast Chicago facilities. The investigation involved traditional facility inspections as well as analysis of wipe samples for various heavy metals, including manganese. Additionally, the PM10 monitoring data that were collected resulted in a violation notice from USEPA for alleged violations of the 24-hour PM10 National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). Furthermore, as a result of the initial increased monitoring effort, USEPA issued subsequent Section 114 requests from additional facilities for detailed information about operations capable of producing fugitive dust and Consent Orders requiring additional FEM PM10 and FRM monitoring. Soon after the additional monitors began collecting data, and those data were reported to EPA, USEPA issued another Notice of Violation to the facility as the average concentration of manganese was above the chronic inhalation exposure minimal risk level.

Besides requiring PM10 monitoring at several facilities (within the fenceline of those facilities), USEPA conducted a detailed metals study in southeast Chicago in late 2014 through mid-2015.4 This study involved a semi-continuous monitor that measured various metals including, but not limited to, lead, arsenic, and manganese.5 This study confirmed, just as a long-standing nearby Illinois EPA monitor had shown, that the ambient concentrations of lead and PM10 were well below the respective NAAQS, and suggested that the arsenic concentration did not pose any long-term health risks. However, for manganese, the EPA study recommended follow-up monitoring closer to industrial areas to determine whether manganese concentrations were significantly higher near those areas. The study further suggested that manganese and other toxic metals be evaluated over a longer time period to determine whether new fugitive dust controls (i.e., the controls required by the City of Chicago rule) have reduced metal concentrations in the ambient air.

Consequences of Next Gen

With all of the data being generated by the various monitors on the southeast side of Chicago, as well as USEPA's Next Gen approach to compliance, the consequences for the regulated community have been significant.

  • First, community awareness regarding environmental issues in southeast Chicago has been heightened: several local neighborhood and national advisory groups have called for more action on an accelerated schedule to better understand the nature, duration, intensity, and impact of airborne PM10 and PM10 constituents.
  • Second, USEPA has used the collected monitoring data to issue health-based violation notices based on alleged exceedances of manganese health screening levels as well as violation notices for exceedances of the PM10 NAAQS(using one company's PM10 monitoring data to implicate another nearby company.
  • Third, the generation of data through monitoring appears to have had the effect of prompting USEPA to request that even more monitoring data be collected, especially when data from a certain facility's monitors may implicate a separate facility.
  • Fourth, the City of Chicago has initiated a more in-depth questionnaire of PM-emitting sources on the southeast side of Chicago in order to identify specific PM constituents, including manganese.

All of this means that the Next Gen approach is working: real time, state-of-the-art monitoring technologies have increased data transparency. But this effort has had the added consequence of requiring significant resources, including time and money to generate, analyze, and interpret information. In many cases, this burden falls on the regulated community.

While this case study pertains to specific issues on the southeast side of Chicago, the concepts of Next Gen can be applied in any geographical area and across many different types of industries.

3 The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry inhalation minimal risk level for chronic exposure to manganese is 0.3 µg/m3.
5 The study also collected data for barium, bromine, cadmium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, potassium, rubidium, selenium, strontium, thorium, titanium, and zinc. The study concluded that the ambient concentrations of other toxic metals were below EPA's long-term and short-term health comparison levels.