Chemical Safety and Reporting: Now is the Time

June 24, 2013
Carol F. McCabe
MGKF Newsflash

Now is the time to review and re-evaluate your facility's use of chemicals, and the reporting, safety and planning requirements that may apply to them. Tragic events at a petrochemical facility in Louisiana and at a fertilizer plant in Texas have brought recent attention to the importance of chemical safety in industrial facilities. In Louisiana, one person died and at least 70 were injured in an explosion and fire at an olefins facility producing ethylene and polymer grade propylene. In Texas, 14 people died and at least 200 were injured in an explosion and fire in a facility storing large amounts of ammonium nitrate.

Through programs governing toxic chemical planning and reporting under the Emergency Preparedness and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) and Chemical Accident Prevention under the Clean Air Act, EPA has established frameworks for facilities to review and identify the risks of chemical usage to human health and the environment. For industrial facilities, now is the time to take another look at these requirements and ensure they are being met. For example, EPCRA Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reports are due July 1, 2013 for facilities that manufactured, processed, or used listed chemicals in 2012 in excess of threshold amounts. With 593 individually listed chemicals and 30 chemical categories, facilities should evaluate chemical usage on at least an annual basis to evaluate the applicability of TRI requirements. TRI reports require a substantial amount of time and effort for each affected facility, because releases of listed chemicals to air, water and waste must be identified and quantified with precision. Because TRI reports are intended in part to educate the public about toxic chemicals used in their communities, EPA takes TRI reporting very seriously, and EPA enforcement actions for failure to comply with TRI reporting requirements are common. EPA's TRI Compliance and Enforcement webpage, http://www.epa.gov/tri/enforcement/, details recent enforcement actions against a wide variety of companies, including an ethanol producer, a gold mining company, chemical producers, dairy processors, hose and belt manufacturer and a cement company, among many others.

Under the Clean Air Act Chemical Accident Prevention Program, facilities that use listed substances in their processes must undertake a robust evaluation of hazards associated with such chemicals and establish emergency response and risk management plans to address such hazards. EPA has aggressively enforced these Risk Management Program (RMP) requirements, especially at facilities where releases have occurred. Notably, even though RMP requirements focus on the identification of hazards and the development of plans to address those hazards, EPA has undertaken enforcement actions even against facilities which have established such plans. For example, EPA recently announced a $450,000 settlement with a beef products manufacturer resulting from a release of more than 1,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia that killed one worker and injured another. In the wake of the release, EPA determined that although RMP requirements had been addressed at the facility, they were not implemented properly. Likewise, as a result of several ammonia releases at Tyson Foods facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, in which at least one fatality and several injuries occurred, EPA commenced an enforcement action against the company, finding deficiencies in its standard operating procedures, process hazard analyses, management of change procedures and equipment maintenance practices. In settlement of the matter, the parties agreed to a $3.95 million civil penalty, along with a Supplemental Environmental Project worth $300,000, and an agreement by Tyson Foods to conduct third-party audits of its compliance with RMP requirements at 23 facilities. Although ammonia refrigeration facilities have been one focus of EPA's enforcement activities, EPA's enforcement activities are certainly not limited to ammonia. EPA's "List of Lists," which identifies chemicals subject to EPCRA and RMP requirements, can be found at http://www.epa.gov/emergencies/tools.htm#101. In light of EPA's longstanding vigilance with respect to chemical safety and reporting requirements, and recent chemical accidents, it is likely that EPA's focus on chemical safety will only increase in the coming months. Now is the time.

For more information about this and other air topics, please contact Carol McCabe at (484) 430-2304.