Enforcement and Assistance in New England
Chemical Management and Accident Prevention
The events of September 11th and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have highlighted the importance of preparing for, preventing and responding quickly to chemical releases in our communities. 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).
In 2005, the Region took 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 companies all allegedly 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 faced civil fines and have spent more than $1.5 million in safety improvements. The penalty actions taken against two of these facilities --Nova Chemicals and Callahan Chemical Company -- are particularly noteworthy as they are among the first cases nationally where EPA has proposed administrative penalties under the “General Duty Clause” of the Clean Air Act.
Crystal Warehouse Corporation, Wilmington, MA 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.
EPA New England issued a complaint proposing that Nova Chemicals, Indian Orchard, MA pay $39,663 for alleged CAA and CERCLA violations found during an investigation of a January 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.
An administrative complaint and order was also issued against Callahan Chemical Company, Walpole, MA, a bulk chemical delivery company, proposing a $113,640 penalty. The complaint cited 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 December 6, 2004 and another of 200 gallons on January 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, MA agreed 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 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, NH, 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, 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 led to the release.
The penalty actions taken against Nova and Callahan are among the first cases nationally where EPA has proposed administrative penalties under the “General Duty Clause” of the CAA. 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 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.
As part of the Risk Management Plan Assistance and Enforcement Program, EPA New England offers technical assistance to groups and individual facilities. During the past year, regional staff have organized or participated in 34 conferences that attracted more than 2,800 attendees, to help companies understand these important laws. EPA has also been working with industry and local officials to improve data systems to make reporting easier. Since September 11, 2001, the Region has funded and helped design simulated chemical accident exercises in many communities to help prepare them in the event of an accidental chemical release or terrorist incident.
EPA also encourages companies to take advantage of its Audit Policy or the related Small Business Compliance Policy, programs that include incentives for regulated entities to voluntarily self-police in order to ensure compliance with federal environmental laws and regulations. The Audit Policy provides that when facilities undertake voluntary, systematic environmental audits of their facilities and disclose and quickly correct any violations they find, they may qualify to receive reduced penalties. The policy does not cover criminal violations or violations that resulted in actual significant harm to public health or the environment. In 2005, some 74 facilities have self-disclosed EPCRA violations to EPA through the use of the Audit Policy and the Small Business Policy, saving a combined $5 million in penalties.