U.S. EPA finalizes settlement with chemical manufacturer in Cochise County, Ariz., will protect workers and the community
Company will pay $1.5 million in penalties and make improvements to its operations
ST. DAVID, Ariz. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached an agreement with Apache Nitrogen Products, Inc. to resolve federal civil environmental violations of the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention measures and of federal laws requiring timely notification of chemical accidents. EPA identified these violations following an anhydrous ammonia release that led to thirteen workers being injured at the Apache Nitrogen Products facility in St. David, Arizona. Apache Nitrogen Products, which uses anhydrous ammonia to manufacture ammonium nitrate-based explosives for mining operations and agricultural fertilizers, will pay a $1.5 million civil penalty and make widespread safety improvements to its facility, some of which have already been implemented.
“Accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia can be extremely dangerous. To prevent the risk of accidental releases, companies must manage their chemicals safely,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “We are pleased that Apache Nitrogen Products will make significant safety improvements as a result of today’s enforcement action.”
EPA’s inspections in 2015 and 2017 were prompted by the company’s release of more than 52,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia while offloading a railcar in June 2014. During the investigation, EPA found violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program regulations, including deficiencies in the plant’s hazard assessment, process safety information, operating procedures, mechanical integrity program, compliance audits, and emergency response program. The release injured twelve employees and one contractor, including seven who needed off-site medical evaluation, and also required the evacuation of employees.
While EPA’s investigation of the 2014 release was ongoing, Apache Nitrogen Products had an additional release of anhydrous ammonia in August 2015 due to the facility’s ineffective preventive maintenance program. The company then failed to immediately notify the National Response Center and state and local authorities, in violation of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, ultimately reporting the release several hours after it occurred.
Under the terms of the settlement, the company has agreed to enhance safety equipment and procedures at the St. David facility, including making improvements to its preventive maintenance tracking system to ensure equipment is being inspected and tested regularly, conducting an audit of its process safety culture with the assistance of a third-party expert, and upgrading its emergency response plan to include installation of an anhydrous ammonia monitoring system and enhanced public notifications. The company has also replaced or upgraded equipment to improve accident prevention.
This case is part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative to reduce risks of accidental releases at chemical manufacturing facilities. Proper implementation of a risk management plan helps facilities that store large amounts of regulated hazardous substances prevent and prepare for chemical accidents. Apache Nitrogen Products uses large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical highly corrosive to skin, eyes and lungs. For more information about the National Compliance Initiative: Reducing Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/national-compliance-initiative-reducing-accidental-releases-industrial-and-chemical
The consent decree for this settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona by the U.S. Department of Justice and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the decree will be available on the Department of Justice website at: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees