EPA announces settlements to address accidental releases at chemical and industrial plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has entered into two separate administrative settlements to address alleged chemical accident prevention and preparedness violations under the Risk Management Program of the Clean Air Act. Both settlements are part of EPA’s National Compliance Initiative to reduce accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities – historically about 150 each year – can result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and other harm to human health and the environment.

The alleged violations and settlements relate to two companies’ management of anhydrous ammonia at their separate fertilizer distribution facilities: New Cooperative Inc. and Manning Grain Company. Under the settlement agreements, each company will assure that its accident prevention program complies with all applicable Clean Air Act requirements.

New Cooperative Inc. is a large agricultural retailer with 43 facilities in Iowa. It will pay a penalty of $20,000 to resolve cited violations at its Badger, Iowa, facility.

Manning Grain Company owns and operates a single agricultural retail facility in Burress, Nebraska. It will pay a penalty of $45,796 to resolve the violations cited at its facility. In addition, each company will pay for and perform projects approved by EPA.

“These settlements ensure the rule of law is being followed by these companies, and that each company is working responsibly to protect the communities and its workers,” said EPA Region 7 Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director David Cozad.

“Accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia fertilizers can be extremely dangerous,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford.  “Our goal is to assure agricultural chemicals are stored, handled, and applied safely.  When that occurs, these chemicals serve as a valuable resource and contribute to safe and economically productive agriculture.”

The settlement agreement with New Cooperative alleges numerous violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requirements at the Badger, Iowa, facility that were documented by EPA during an August 2018 inspection of the facility. At the time of the EPA inspection on Aug. 10, 2018, the Badger facility had the capacity to store 650,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, with an estimated inventory of 300,260 pounds on site during EPA’s inspection. The alleged violations include New Cooperative’s failure to:

  • Update and maintain the facility’s management system and assign a qualified person to the overall responsibility of the facility’s Risk Management Program
  • Ensure its ammonia processes were designed or maintained in conformance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (e.g., an inoperable emergency shutoff cable on a supply vessel, inadequate emergency signage, a vessel needing corrosion protection, and an illegible data plate on a 26,000-gallon ammonia storage vessel)
  • Properly conduct hazard reviews and address any deficiencies or hazards found in a timely manner
  • Update the accident history of the facility’s Risk Management Plan and correct the plan to reflect two prior accidents

In addition to the settlement penalty of $20,000, New Cooperative will install emergency electronic shutoff systems at no fewer than 13 of its facilities. These systems will include emergency stop buttons and a remote stop transmitter, which can be worn by an employee to reduce response time to a potential release. The systems are designed to close all shutoff valves and shut down liquid and vapor pumps for each facility. The estimated cost to implement these systems is $80,000.

The settlement agreement with Manning Grain alleges violations of the Risk Management Program at the Burress, Nebraska, facility that were documented by EPA during a June 2018 inspection of the facility. Burress is a small town of 3,651 people. Evidence obtained by EPA following the inspection documented that the facility routinely maintains over 400,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on site. The alleged violations include Manning Grain’s failure to:

  • Prepare and submit a Risk Management Plan to EPA
  • Determine and maintain records of an analysis of the off-site consequences of releases of ammonia
  • Perform proper maintenance and place safety barriers designed to prevent collisions with ammonia storage tanks
  • Properly conduct compliance audits and hazard reviews, and address any hazards found in a timely manner
  • Determine and document who would respond to accidental releases

In addition to the settlement penalty of $45,796, Manning Grain will purchase equipment for local emergency responders that consists of 30 heat-resistant hoods and a thermal camera capable of identifying heat sources inside buildings during responses or rescues. The estimated cost of these purchases is $8,415.