National Chemical Company will Upgrade Facilities and Pay Fine to Settle Clean Air Violations

A national company that distributes ammonia has agreed to install and operate $345,000 in ammonia leak detection systems at 14 facilities across the country to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it violated federal clean air regulations on chemical risk management at plants in Rhode Island and Michigan. Tanner Industries, based in Southhampton, Penn., also agreed to pay a $56,700 penalty to settle these claims. The regulations are meant to prevent chemical accidents.

Tanner Industries, which operates ammonia distribution facilities across the country, including one in East Providence, R.I., and one in Inkster, Mich., is subject to the Clean Air Act’s risk management planning requirements because ammonia is an extremely hazardous substance. While Tanner did take some actions to address the risks of an accidental release of ammonia at its facility in Rhode Island, Tanner failed to address the risk associated with the fact that its facility is not staffed except when ammonia is being received or distributed there.

EPA also alleged that Tanner failed to coordinate adequate emergency response plans with local emergency response agencies to ensure that the public would be protected in the event of a release of ammonia.

The new ammonia leak detectors Tanner agreed to install and operate will alert residents in surrounding communities of accidental releases of ammonia. Alarm signals will also be sent to emergency response personnel so that they may address accidental ammonia releases.

This week’s agreement involved two separate settlements with EPA regional offices. In a settlement with EPA New England, Tanner agreed to install and operate ammonia leak detection systems at six Tanner facilities: Butner, N.C.; East Providence, R.I.; Tamaqua, Penn; Philadelphia, Penn.; New Castle, Penn.; and Natalbany, La. The company also agreed to a $28,350 penalty to settle claims of violating the Clear Air Act at its Rhode Island plant.

In a separate settlement with EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago, the company agreed to install and operate detectors at eight other Tanner facilities: Lincoln, Ala.; Inkster, Mich.; Belvidere, Ill.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Neosho, Mo.; Morgantown, W.Va.; Mount Hope, W.Va.; and Fayetteville, N.C. This settlement also requires Tanner to pay a penalty of $28,350 for violating the Clean Air Act at its Inkster plant. Like the East Providence facility, the Inkster plant was staffed at only limited times and failed to coordinate adequate emergency response plans with local agencies to ensure that the public would be protected in the event of a release of ammonia.

Tanner’s East Providence R.I. facility is about a tenth of a mile from a residential neighborhood and even closer to other public businesses. The way the facility was operating, according to EPA New England, if an ammonia leak were to occur when the facility was un-staffed, a cloud of ammonia gas could have reached surrounding populated areas before emergency responders or neighbors detected it.

Exposure to anhydrous ammonia, which is toxic and corrosive, can result in chemical-type burns to skin, eyes, and lungs. These burns may be serious enough to cause permanent blindness, lung disease, or death.

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