Two Manufacturers Answer for No General Duty of Care

D. D. Williamson and Co. and First Chemical Corp. have agreed in separate settlements to pay a combined total of $1,331,000 in civil penalties and to implement corrective measures to settle Clean Air Act claims resulting from a 2003 explosion at D.D. Williamson's Kentucky plant and a 2002 explosion at First Chemical's Mississippi plant, according to the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The 2003 incident at the plant resulted in the death of one employee and the release of an ammonia cloud in a nearby residential neighborhood.

The complaints allege that the companies failed to adhere to the Clean Air Act's general duty of care provision, which obligates companies handling extremely hazardous substances to take steps to identify and reduce the risks associated with the use of these chemicals, including providing layers of protection on their equipment, such as pressure relief valves, automatic shut-off valves or temperature alarms; ensuring the mechanical integrity of their equipment and piping; and properly training employees to monitor and address emergencies.

According to the Justice Department, D.D. Williamson, a caramel coloring manufacturer, allegedly failed to comply with the general duty of care and the chemical accident prevention provisions, also known as the risk management program. The risk management program outlines specific safety management requirements for certain extremely hazardous substances, such as ammonia, that are used in amounts over specific limits.

D.D. Williamson agreed to pay $600,000 in civil penalties to be divided equally between the United States and the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District, which enforces the risk management program regulations. After the 2003 explosion, the manufacturer built a new facility at its Louisville plant that housed its manufacturing operations. Under the consent decree, D.D. Williamson is required to use an outside engineering consultant to complete a full hazard operability study of its manufacturing operations and implement the study's recommendations, and to train its managers in process-hazard assessment techniques.

The complaint filed against First Chemical, which makes extremely hazardous mononitrotoluene (MNT), asserts the company similarly failed to meet the general duty requirement, leading to the 2002 explosion that resulted in the release of over 1,200 pounds of MNT into the air. The company agreed to pay the United States $731,000 in civil penalties, to complete an ongoing comprehensive hazard analysis of its MNT process and to implement all recommendations resulting from the analysis.

Copies of the consent decrees are available on the Department of Justice Web site.

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