EPA Takes Enforcement Action Against Five Companies, Offers Proper Safety Practice Reminders

EPA has taken legal action against five separate New England companies -- four in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire -- for failing to comply with federal chemical emergency response and prevention laws, the agency announced on Nov. 21. The companies have allegedly all violated community right-to-know and chemical safety laws that are designed to reduce the risk of accidents from hazardous chemicals. As a result of these cases, the facilities face penalties and have spent more than $1.5 million in safety improvements.

"In the wake of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, and for the recent flooding in New Hampshire and Taunton, Mass., federal and state emergency responders relied heavily on the information contained in chemical management databases for determining reconnaissance and response priorities," said Robert W. Varney, administrator of EPA's New England office. "Having up-to-date and accurate information about chemical storage and releases is not just an important environmental concern -- it is vital for our national security and the health and welfare of citizens that live near these facilities. It is critical that companies continually analyze the risks that their chemicals pose and act to prevent releases from occurring."

A number of large and small chemical releases by local companies have led EPA's New England office to intensify efforts to make sure manufacturers report chemical use, take the necessary steps to prevent chemical accidents, and immediately report releases, as required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), the Clean Air Act (CAA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA -- Superfund law).

EPA's recent enforcement actions include:

  • On Nov. 18, Crystal Warehouse Corp., Wilmington, Mass., agreed to pay $17,973 to settle claims that it violated federal chemical inventory reporting regulations. Crystal Warehouse stores hydrofluoric acid, which is classified as an "extremely hazardous substance" under EPCRA. According to EPA, the manufacturer failed to file required inventory forms for this chemical from 2002 until 2004 even though it stored more than 10 times the reporting threshold.
  • On Sept. 23, EPA issued a complaint proposing that Nova Chemicals, Indian Orchard, Mass., pay $39,663 for alleged CAA and CERCLA violations found during an investigation of a Jan. 7, 2004, chemical accident that released 4,500 pounds of styrene monomer to the environment. EPA alleged that Nova failed to design and maintain a safe facility or to take steps necessary to prevent a release; minimize the consequences of an accidental release; and failed to immediately notify the National Response Center of the release.
  • On Sept. 30, EPA issued an administrative complaint and order against Callahan Chemical Co., Walpole, Mass., a bulk chemical delivery company, proposing a $113,640 penalty. The complaint cites the company for violations of the "General Duty Clause" of the CAA by failing to employ adequate safeguards to prevent and mitigate two releases of acetone -- one of about 1,300 gallons on Dec. 6, 2004, and another of 200 gallons on Jan. 14, 2005. Both spills allegedly occurred because of human error, and the company was cited for failing to follow accepted safe operating procedures. EPA also alleged that Callahan violated provisions of CERCLA and EPCRA by failing to give timely notification of the first release to the National Response Center and the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
  • Northeast Refrigerated Terminals, Middleboro, Mass., agreed on Sept. 27 to pay $18,045 and spend an additional $30,000 to make environmental improvements after anhydrous ammonia was released from a faulty valve at the facility in April 2004. The company has installed an advanced ammonia detection and automatic shut-down system. Although there were no reported injuries, the local fire department responded and evacuated 30 to 40 homes in the area. After learning about the incident from outside sources, EPA conducted an inspection and filed a complaint on June 29, citing the company's failure to have a risk-management program; notify the National Response Center of the release; and file required chemical inventory forms.
  • OSRAM SYLVANIA Products, Exeter, N.H., a maker of glass and ceramic products, agreed to pay $14,000 to settle claims that it violated federal clean air and chemical release notification rules in 2003. According to EPA, OSRAM violated the CAA and CERCLA by failing to have an adequate risk management plan for a hydrofluoric acid process at its facility and by failing to properly notify the National Response Center of an accidental release of hydrofluoric acid in May 2003. In the settlement, finalized last June, OSRAM neither admitted nor denied the allegations and there were no injuries reported as a result of the release. The alleged violations were discovered during an EPA audit of the facility and an investigation of the hydrofluoric acid release. The investigation revealed that human error likely lead to the release.

First time use of "General Duty Clause" to assess penalties

The penalty actions taken against Nova and Callahan are particularly notable, as they are the first cases nationally where EPA has proposed administrative penalties under the so-called "General Duty Clause" of the CAA, officials said. The General Duty Clause provides that owners and operators of stationary sources that produce, process, handle or store extremely hazardous substances have a general duty to identify potential hazards and to design and maintain safe facilities to minimize the consequences of accidental releases. Facilities that do not meet these standards may expose people and property to extremely hazardous substances. Fortunately, in both cases, weather conditions prevented the highly flammable substances from causing harm to people. However, the acetone release at Callahan resulted in substantial environmental damage that the company is cleaning up at great expense.

Cases highlight proper safety practices and "lessons learned"

  • Companies should work closely with local emergency planning committees (LEPC) to make them aware of chemicals they use and store at their facilities.
  • Be prudent about assessing the potential for chemical hazards, and take steps to prevent releases -- add redundant controls where control failure results in significant risks.
  • Report significant releases to emergency responders and the National Response Center immediately. Do not wait to calculate the amount of chemical released. You may be fined for late reporting if EPA determines that you should have known that the release exceeded reportable quantities of the chemical before precise calculations are complete.
  • Ensure that you have a system for ensuring compliance with EPCRA and other chemical safety laws, including the CAA and OSHA. The system should survive staff turnover.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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