EPA ensuring community's right to know through two Rhode Island settlements
BOSTON (Nov. 28, 2023) – Under recently proposed settlements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, two Rhode Island companies will be required to pay penalties and comply with EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the process hazard review (PHR) requirement of the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act at their respective facilities for their uses of anhydrous ammonia and metals. These settlements further protect communities, employees, first responders, and the environment from accidental hazardous exposure through raised awareness.
"The safety and wellbeing of New England communities is our top priority. EPA oversight practices are designed to protect and inform local stakeholders, making it important that companies are following and operating in line with environmental laws and regulations," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "This settlement, which will strengthen public safety, highlights accident prevention and the community's right to know about chemicals in their environment. We take these responsibilities seriously, especially to protect local populations that face disproportionate environmental risks in New England."
W.R. Cobb, a metal stamping manufacturer located in East Providence, Rhode Island, has agreed to pay a penalty of $108,900 for alleged violations of EPCRA TRI reporting requirements and the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act. The company, which uses anhydrous ammonia in its manufacturing processes, failed to file TRI reports for the facility's use of anhydrous ammonia during the calendar years 2018, 2019, and 2020. Additionally, W.R. Cobb failed to conduct a PHR for the facility's use of anhydrous ammonia as required by the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act. Though an efficient and effective refrigerant, anhydrous ammonia has toxic properties than can be corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs when exposed. Further, nearly 10,000 people live within a one-mile radius of the facility. After EPA provided notice in August of 2021, the company filed all three missing TRI reports and completed a PHR.
Separately, EPA settled an action with Millard Wire, a Warwick, Rhode Island-based custom metal wire and metal strip manufacturing facility, for violations of EPCRA reporting requirements and the process hazard review requirement of the Clean Air Act. These violations stem from Millard Wire's storage and use of anhydrous ammonia and its processing of copper and nickel metals. The company was required to submit TRI forms for the facility's use and processing of ammonia, copper, and nickel at the facility. The company also failed to submit "Tier II" forms to the local emergency planning committee, the state emergency response commission, and the local fire department, as required under EPCRA. These requirements are important for transparency and for the safety of first responders. Additionally, the company failed to conduct a PHR, as required under the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act, for its use of anhydrous ammonia. Millard Wire corrected these violations based on EPA's notification, providing the required PHR, submitting Tier II forms, and filing its missing TRI forms for ammonia, copper, and nickel. Millard Wire agreed to pay a penalty of $170,261 and comply with EPCRA and the Clean Air Act.
Under federal TRI regulations, companies that use certain listed chemicals must report their chemical releases each year to EPA. This information serves as the basis for the Toxic Release Inventory, which is a collection of data that can be readily reviewed by communities, government, and industry. With the information being publicly available, companies have an incentive to reduce harmful chemical use and improve their environmental performance. TRI reporting informs surrounding communities about a facility's toxic chemicals that could potentially harm public health and the environment and offers transparency.
EPCRA Tier II submissions are required to adequately inform local officials and responders of the presence of hazardous chemicals in the case of an emergency. This information is also available to the public, upon request, so that members of the public can be informed of the presence of hazardous chemicals in their communities.
The General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act aims to prevent the accidental release of extremely hazardous chemicals and minimize the consequences of any such releases. Under this provision, owners and operators of facilities that store or use extremely hazardous chemicals have the duty, among others, to identify hazards that may result from a release and document this analysis in a PHR.