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Two Springfield, Mass. Facilities Agree to Improve Handling and Reporting of Hazardous Chemicals

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David Deegan (

BOSTON - Two facilities located in Springfield, Mass. have agreed with the U.S. EPA to come into compliance with federal requirements designed to protect the public and first responders from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The agreements were with Performance Food Group, Inc., which owns and operates a food distribution and refrigeration warehouse facility where it uses anhydrous ammonia in its refrigeration systems; and with Solutia Inc., which operates a chemical production facility and handles vinyl acetate monomer in its process.

Performance Food Group - The Performance Food Group facility in Springfield consists of a large distribution warehouse, a cold storage area, trucks, and loading bays. The refrigeration warehouse uses anhydrous ammonia in its refrigeration systems. Anhydrous ammonia is an efficient refrigerant with many environmental benefits, but it must be used with care because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Ammonia is also flammable under certain conditions. It can explode if released in an enclosed space when there is a source of ignition, or if a vessel holding anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire. A large ammonia release can spread through the air to impact neighbors. As a result of the dangers associated with ammonia, the ammonia refrigeration industry has developed standards and guidelines for the design and operation of ammonia refrigeration systems. These standards are evidence that the ammonia refrigeration industry recognizes certain potential harms relating to the use of ammonia and has found ways to address and minimize those harms.

An EPA inspection identified potentially unsafe conditions relating to the ammonia refrigeration process, including that the facility had not filed a "risk management plan" as required, based on its storage and handling of about 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. The facility has now developed and filed a risk management plan, and has worked quickly to come into compliance. These plans are required for all facilities using certain amounts of extremely hazardous substances, including anhydrous ammonia, in order to help emergency response personnel prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies. These regulations also require facilities to prevent chemical releases by designing and operating their chemical processes in a safe manner.

As part of the settlement agreement, Performance Food Group was required to certify that its nine other facilities around the country are following industry standards for ammonia inventory calculations, that it has filed risk management plans for those facilities that have over 10,000 pounds of ammonia in covered processes, and that it is reviewing these facilities to ensure that bare minimum safety measures have been met at these facilities.

In the settlement agreement, Performance Food Group will pay $184,717 to settle claims that it violated Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act in its handling of anhydrous ammonia and claims it violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act when it under-reported ammonia and failed to report lead contained in lead-acid batteries on forms known as Tier 2 Inventory Forms. The goal of Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act is to reduce the risk of chemical accidents, and the goal of the Tier 2 forms is to provide emergency responders and planners with critical information about hazardous chemicals at facilities so that they can safely respond to releases.

Solutia Inc. – Solutia operates a chemical production facility in a densely populated area of Springfield, where it produces various synthetic organic chemical products, including plastics, adhesives, and resins. The facility uses several chemicals in its manufacturing processes, including vinyl acetate monomer. Vinyl acetate monomer is a highly flammable liquid that is also a chronic respiratory irritant.

During an EPA inspection of the facility, several concerns were identified regarding compliance with Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act as well as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The company has certified that it has corrected the deficiencies and come into compliance.

Under the settlement agreement, Solutia will pay a civil penalty of $15,222. Solutia will also perform a supplemental environmental project worth approximately $59,779 that enhances emergency response capabilities in the community through purchasing and donating certain emergency response equipment to the Fire Department of the City of Springfield. The equipment will enhance local responses to potential emergencies in the Springfield area involving releases of chemicals, including vinyl acetate monomer. The equipment will help keep public safety personnel from coming into contact with dangerous toxic and flammable materials.

"Under these recent agreements, both companies have stepped up to the plate and worked with EPA to make sure they corrected the issues our inspectors identified," said Deb Szaro, acting regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "Federal air and reporting laws help protect public health, first responders, and our environment."

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