EPA and DOJ Reach Settlement Agreement with Ferrellgas, Inc. to Prevent Chemical Accidents at Florida Facility
TAVARES, Fla. - (September 3, 2020) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have reached a settlement agreement with Ferrellgas, Inc., doing business as Blue Rhino (Blue Rhino), to resolve violations of their duty under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to prevent and mitigate the consequences of chemical accidents at Blue Rhino’s propane cylinder refurbishing and distribution plant in Tavares. Under the proposed agreement, Blue Rhino has agreed to pay a $400,000 civil penalty.
"It is vital that facilities comply with Clean Air Act requirements designed to protect our communities from chemical accidents," said EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker. “Today’s agreement demonstrates EPA’s commitment to pursuing violations of laws that are critical to protecting public health and safety, while bringing companies into compliance.”
Blue Rhino operates several facilities throughout the United States that refurbish and refill 20-pound liquid propane cylinders for distribution to retail locations. The facility in Tavares has an approximately four acre asphalt storage yard where full and empty propane cylinders are stored. On July 29, 2013, workers at the facility improperly vented several cylinders to the atmosphere, causing propane to collect in the yard. As the propane cylinders were venting, a spark from a forklift ignited the vented propane gas resulting in a fire that caused the pressure relief valves in other cylinders to release propane, leading to a chain reaction and a large series of explosions. The fire and explosions injured workers and caused approximately $3.5 million of property damage, including minor damage to six nearby businesses and one residence. Blue Rhino shut down the facility for five months to investigate and to take corrective action.
EPA investigated the fire and explosions, and as a result of the investigation, EPA alleged that Blue Rhino violated section 112(r)(1) of the CAA by failing to identify hazards that may result from accidental releases of propane gas using appropriate hazard assessment techniques. Further, EPA alleged that Blue Rhino failed to design and maintain a safe facility by taking the necessary steps to prevent the accidental release of propane gas.
The objective of the section 112(r)(1) of the CAA is to prevent the accidental release of extremely hazardous substances and to minimize the consequences of any such releases that do occur. Owners and operators of facilities that produce, process handle or store extremely hazardous substances have a general duty to: identify hazards at their facility using appropriate hazard assessment techniques; design and maintain a safe facility taking steps necessary to prevent accidental releases; and minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.
In response to the accident and to maintain a safe facility, Blue Rhino instituted multiple changes at the plant. These changes included the purchase and installation of new equipment for accident prevention and mitigation, revised training programs, a process hazard analysis for the storage yard, and a designated safe “Vent Zone.” Blue Rhino also revised a number of its standard operating procedures to specify, among other things, that bleeder screws can only be opened in the designated “Vent Zone” and to ensure that a cylinder is empty before a valve is removed.