Enforcement and Assistance in New England
Preventing the Release of Hazardous Substances
Environmental emergencies involving the release, or threatened release, of oil, hazardous materials or chemicals may potentially affect communities and the surrounding environment at any given time. Releases may be accidental or be caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods. Over the past year, we have taken aggressive enforcement action to prevent accidental or unintentional releases of hazardous substances under several federal environmental statutes. These actions serve as a first line of defense in protecting New England’s environment and the health of its citizens.
Preventing the Release of Hazardous Chemicals
Federal environmental laws, which include 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), contain various provisions that direct companies and organizations that use, store, and manage hazardous chemicals to develop comprehensive chemical risk management plans; provide emergency responders with critical information about the presence of hazardous chemicals at their facilities; and follow guidelines to reduce the risk of accidents from hazardous chemicals.
For example, the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act (Sec. 112(r)(1)) requires facilities to (1) identify hazards that may result from accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances; (2) design and maintain a safe facility, taking such steps as are necessary to prevent releases; and (3) minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.
In 2004, we brought a General Duty Clause action against the NOVA Chemicals Inc. facility in Indian Orchard, MA for having released 4,500 pounds of extremely flammable styrene. Our investigation of the plant revealed that one of its polystyrene manufacturing processes was not safely designed. EPA and NOVA Chemicals settled the case for a cash penalty of $13,800 and a $14,000 Supplemental Environmental Project requiring the donation of emergency response equipment to the Springfield fire department.
However, after further examination, we concluded that despite the recent steps NOVA had taken to improve the safety of its polystyrene manufacturing process, the facility’s operations continued to pose a significant risk of accidental release. In response to these findings, NOVA agreed in late 2006 to make necessary safety improvements, including the installation of a secondary containment vessel. The cost of these safety measures, in addition to the earlier improvements, was nearly $3 million.
Managing Hazardous Wastes
In June, during a routine inspection of a Massachusetts-based company, Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc., federal and state inspectors discovered several potentially serious hazardous waste violations regarding the handling and storage of solid wastes and hazardous wastes at the company’s Braintree facility. Clean Harbors provides variety of environmental and hazardous waste management services.
We promptly issued an emergency order under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) outlining the specific conditions that could pose a danger to public health or the environment. The order required Clean Harbors to take immediate action to abate the dangers posed. Examples of unsafe conditions included storage of incompatible acidic, alkaline and organic hazardous wastes; the use of decertified, deteriorating storage tanks, some of which had alarms that were not properly functioning to alert people when tanks were full; cracks in the secondary containment systems; and an inadequate waste tracking system.
Clean Harbors has complied with the order and taken the necessary steps to correct these hazardous conditions at a cost of approximately $676,000. As a result, we estimate that more than 498,000 gallons of hazardous waste are now being more safely managed at the facility.
Preventing Oil Spills
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, part of which amended the Clean Water Act, expanded the role of the federal government in both preventing and responding to oil spills. The law prohibits the discharge of threshold amounts of oil or hazardous substances to navigable waters of the United States. To reduce the likelihood of a spill, the law requires facilities that store oil in significant amounts to prepare Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans and to adopt certain measures to keep accidental releases from reaching navigable waters. Facilities, such as oil tank farms, that pose a greater risk of release must also develop Facility Response Plans (FRP) to respond promptly to large spills with the aid of outside contractors.
Over the past year, we conducted 138 SPCC and FRP inspections at facilities throughout New England. Of particular concern are marinas, schools and hospitals. As a result of our inspections, we fined 32 facilities and issued Orders to eight facilities. For example, CN Brown Company of South Paris, ME will pay a penalty of $157,500 and spend more than $1 million to bring their New England facilities into compliance with federal Oil Pollution Prevention regulations. The company operates seven oil storage facilities in New Hampshire and Maine.