EPA Proposes Possible Millions in Fines: General Duty is for Real

Region 1 EPA.  Company could face millions in fines related to General Duty. Company has approximately 9,000 lbs of ammonia.  First visited in 2011 when facility opened, and a re-visited in 2012.

The Inspection and EPA’s review of subsequently submitted information revealed that Respondent:

  1. Had not conducted an adequate hazard analysis of the System, using appropriate hazard assessment techniques;
  2. Did not have, or have available for EPA review, critical documents and information about the System that would allow Respondent to adequately identify hazards posed by the System and to maintain and safely operate it. For example, Respondent did not have a complete Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (the diagram it had lacked identification of the System’s valves) or information, diagrams, and calculations the ventilation capacity of the Machinery Room;
  3. Had not designed, installed, and operated an adequate ventilation system, ensuring that the Machinery Room had sufficient air sweep to clear it of ammonia fumes in case of emergency. The sole fresh inlet air vent openings were extremely remote (estimated by EPA to be at least 250 feet away), were located in an adjacent warehouse room with a closed door between it and the Machinery Room, and were completely blocked with heavy wood covers that were fastened in place;
  4. Had not designed and operated an air-tight, isolated Machinery Room, in that the northern Access Door was a sliding door rather than a tight-fitting and outward-opening door;
  5. Had not posted ammonia warning signs at each entrance to the Machinery Room or signs displaying a diagram and other information about the System’s capacity, operation, al~ and emergency shutdown process, near the compressor or outside any of the four Machinery Room doors;
  6. Had not labeled the components, pipes (except a single pipe on the ammonia recirculator), or valve systems (except a temporary sign hung on the King Valve);
  7. Had not kept the Machinery Room free of flammable material, in that it contained two drums of new and/or waste oil;
  8. Had not ensured that all components and piping, including the glycol polytank, were protected from forklift traffic or other potential impact;
  9. Did not have an eyewash and shower station just outside of the Machinery Room and did not have the necessary personal protective equipment to help protect employees in case of ammonia exposure or other emergency;
  10. Had not positioned the condenser relief valve disc~ge above the condenser or maintained paint on the condenser piping to prevent corrosion;
  11. Had not installed the main pressure-relief vent pipe in a safe manner. The vent pipe opening was on the side of the building, rather than above roof level. Further, not only was it aimed downwards instead of upwards, it was situated to vent in the general vicinity of both an employee break patio and where critical emergency hook-ups and connections (fire hose connections, main sprinkler valves, and natural gas shutoff valves) are located;
  12. Had not provided adequate ammonia detectors with associated alarms. There was a single ammonia detector in the Machinery Room, which was not near the receiver or overpressure vent piping. The Facility’s detectors did not actuate visual alarms at each Machinery Room entrance.
  13. Had not provided emergency shutdown or ventilation switches for the System outside the principal Machinery Room door. The only emergency shutdown and ventilation switches for the System were located outside the northern Access Door, which cannot be considered the Machinery Room’s principal door, given that it is approximately 250 feet away from where the equipment is located, does not afford any nearby egress to the outside, and is out of normal walking routes;
  14. Did not have handles on the King and other isolation valves, and these valves were not always accessible from permanent work surfaces. The handle for the King Valve was banging nearby and would need to be retrieved to be used in an emergency. Additionally, the King Valve was only accessible by a ladder over the receiver;
  15. Had not developed an adequate emergency response program, including an up-to-date and accurate emergency action plan that addressed release scenarios based on hazards associated with the design, location, and operation of the Facility. For example, the emergency plan provided to EPA was drafted for another company’s operations and only partially updated to reflect the specific conditions at the Facility. The Plan was dated over two years before the Facility opened, and it did not appear to include the Facility in its list of building-specific emergency contacts (only listing primary and alternate contacts for Buildings #1, #2, and #3, which are presumably the three related facilities operated by Respondent’s sister companies prior to the opening of the Facility). The Plan erroneously included several references to itself as being the emergency plan for the company “American Refrigeration.” The Plan also severely undercounted the size of the surrounding population (estimating the population “Within three miles to be 2,500 while EPA estimates indicate it is over 16,000) and neglected to include contact information for officials from the neighboring town of Middleborough even though the Facility is located near its populous downtown. The Plan also referenced an evacuation route plan that was not attached, and it inaccurately describes aspects of the Facility, including the relative location of the Machinery Room within the Facility, and the existence of a detector in the main relief vent. Additionally, Respondent’s failure to promptly notify the local fire departments of the presence of ammonia deprived emergency responders of information about the Facility, which would compromise their ability to safely respond to an emergency at the Facility.

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