EPA Settlements Resolve Violations of Laws to Prevent Chemical Accidents at Facilities in New England
BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced settlements with three companies that resolve alleged violations of Clean Air Act requirements for the safe handling of certain chemicals and substances at facilities in New England. The three companies—Elliott Auto Supply Company, which does business as Splash Products; SUEZ Water Environmental Services; and City Line Distributors—all agreed to pay penalties to resolve the alleged violations and have come into compliance with the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause after EPA inspections and consultations with the agency. A fourth company—Photofabrication Engineering, Inc.—settled with EPA for failure to inform local and state responders about the presence of hydrofluoric acid at its facility, in alleged violation of the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
"Companies that use and store extremely hazardous substances must have the required safeguards in place to ensure New England communities are protected," said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro. "EPA is committed to holding accountable those entities that fail to reduce the risk of accidental releases by managing their chemicals safely, and the companies in these cases have made significant safety improvements as a result of EPA enforcement efforts."
The four settlements are:
- Elliot Auto Supply Company, Inc. (d/b/a Splash Products), Ayer, Mass.: Splash Products manufactures windshield wiper fluid using methanol at its facility in Ayer. Large quantities of methanol are brought to the facility in tanker trucks and transferred to rail cars for storage and use. Methanol is toxic and highly flammable, and its vapors easily mix with air to form an explosive mixture. Also, the chemical requires special firefighting attention because it can burn with no visible flame and stays flammable even when mixed with large quantities of water. After a 7,000-gallon methanol spill at the facility in 2016, EPA conducted inspections of the facility in 2016 and 2017. The release was caused when methanol was mistakenly pumped onto the ground through a disconnected hose. EPA alleged that Splash Products violated the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause when it failed to identify hazards, design and maintain the facility to prevent releases and minimize the consequences of accidental releases. Safety deficiencies included, among others: lack of spill containment, failure to ground and bond methanol equipment, lack of emergency relief venting for storage tanks, inadequate fire suppression, inadequate employee training and protective equipment, and lack of an emergency response plan. Pursuant to a settlement filed on July 26, 2019, Splash Products will pay a $197,075 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause and the EPCRA chemical inventory reporting requirements. In January 2019, Splash Products certified to EPA that it had come into compliance with the General Duty Clause after entering into an administrative order on consent with EPA that compelled compliance. The work cost Splash approximately $173,400.
- SUEZ Water Environmental Services, Inc., for work at the Springfield (Mass.) Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility: SUEZ Water Environmental Services, Inc., is under a contract with the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission to operate the commission's plant in Springfield, which treats wastewater from several communities in Massachusetts. During an inspection of the Springfield facility, which is located in an area of environmental justice concern, EPA found that SUEZ was storing incompatible materials together in a manner that EPA alleged created fire hazards or opportunities for toxic releases. SUEZ paid a $20,900 penalty under a settlement with EPA and promptly corrected compliance deficiencies after EPA's inspection. Separately, in September of 2018, SUEZ reached a $11,400 settlement to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations relating to its use of chlorine at the facility.
- Photofabrication Engineering, Inc. of Milford, Mass.: Photofabrication Engineering, Inc., was also storing incompatible chemicals together. The company, which photo etches precision metal parts, had a hydrofluoric acid spill in January. Hydrofluoric acid was not listed on the chemical inventory form submitted to state and local officials pursuant to EPCRA. The company paid a $7,562 penalty for this omission and agreed to enter into a Clean Air Act compliance order to review hazards associated with its storage and use of hydrofluoric acid and other extremely hazardous chemicals.
- City Line Distributors, Inc., of West Haven, Conn.: City Line allegedly violated chemical accident prevention laws related to the use of anhydrous ammonia in the refrigeration system at its cold storage and food distribution facility in West Haven. Under a settlement with EPA, City Line paid a $40,600 penalty to resolve the alleged violations and agreed to update its process hazard review for the refrigeration system. City Line has spent more than $100,000 to bring its facility back into compliance with the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause.
All the companies fully cooperated with EPA throughout the enforcement process.
The goal of the Section 112(r) of the CAA is to prevent accidental releases of substances that can cause serious harm to the public and the environment. Facilities that fail to comply with Section 112(r) put facility personnel, employees of adjacent businesses, emergency responders, and the local population and environment at risk of harm from such accidental releases.
For ammonia refrigeration facilities in New England that use fewer than 10,000 pounds of ammonia, EPA Region 1 is working to improve compliance with the General Duty Clause requirement to identify hazards that may result from accidental releases using appropriate hazard assessment techniques. After publicizing this compliance effort, EPA has begun issuing information requests to certain facilities to learn whether they have performed a process hazard review. If a company has not, EPA will offer to resolve that violation with an expedited settlement agreement that includes a reduced penalty if the company completes a process hazard review with assistance from a third-party expert and meets with emergency responders to plan for a potential release from the facility.
- EPA information on the General Duty Clause requirements of Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act: https://www.epa.gov/rmp/general-duty-clause-under-clean-air-act-section-112r1
- EPA information on key safety measures for ammonia refrigeration systems: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/safety-standards-ammonia-refrigeration
- Information on EPA's work to improve safety at facilities in New England with smaller ammonia refrigeration systems: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/improving-safety-facilities-new-england-smaller-ammonia-refrigeration-systems