USEPA Alert on Minimizing and Reporting Environmental Releases During Extreme Weather

Timely due to the recent flooding in Texas, on May 22, 2015, USEPA issued a reminder that as hurricane season begins, companies should minimize process shutdown related releases and report environmental releases as required. Companies cannot always predict extreme weather, such as the onset of a hurricane; however, management and personnel can take preventative action by preparing for complex industrial shutdown operations to minimize uncontrolled releases where possible and understand the reporting requirements that may result in a release during shutdown. During process shutdown, normally automated systems or process controls may be bypassed, disconnected, or under manual control, added to the sometimes unpredictable human/process interactions required during shutdown operations, may lead to a chemical release to the environment. Based on USEPA’s alert, EHS Support has highlighted Federal reporting requirements and provided some planning guidance to prepare for the possibility of releases during extreme weather.

Prevention and Reporting Requirements

Provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) direct how accidental releases must be prevented and reported:

  • Section 103 of CERCLA (42 U.S.C. §9603 et seq.) – facilities must immediately notify the National Response Center (NRC) following any release of a hazardous substance above a “reportable quantity” (RQ) for that material. Because shutdown operations associated with hazardous weather conditions are considered random, non-routine events, RQ releases caused by hazardous weather induced process shutdown operations typically cannot be reported as amendments/updates to prior continuous release reports.
  • Section 304 of the EPCRA – owners and operators are required to immediately notify their proper State Emergency Response Commissions (SERC) and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) following the release of a RQ of a hazardous material.
  • Section 112(r)(1) of the CAA (42 U.S.C. §7412(r)(1)) – facilities are required to prevent accidental releases of hazardous substances and to minimize the consequences should such a release occur.
  • National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) (40 C.F.R. Section 63.6 (e)(1)(i)) – at all times, including periods of startup, shutdown and malfunction, facilities must maintain operation in a manner consistent with safety and air pollution control practices to limit emissions of hazardous air pollutants.

In all cases, each facility is responsible for determining whether its releases in excess of an RQ qualify for the federally permitted notification exemption.

The NRC serves as the Federal Government’s point of contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological and biological releases in the United States. The NRC operates continuously and can be contacted at (800) 424-8802 or (202) 267-2675. The NRC notifies EPA’s response personnel of release reports. This information is critical to EPA’s ability to coordinate with SERCs and LEPCs; and determine what actions are necessary, if any, to protect human health and the environment.

Prevention of Releases

  • Review procedures and plans for operational events during shutdown to prevent hazardous weather events.
    • Update emergency action and contingency plans with information such as appropriate emergency personnel and responsibilities, agency contact information, and evacuation routes, in case a release of RQ does occur, and
    • Ensure personnel and local emergency response agencies understand the content of the plan (i.e., proper notifications and training).
  • Make appropriate administrative/procedural, operational/process equipment and hardware/software safety improvements.
  • Consider the operability issues for land based or cell phone services during hazardous weather events. If the probability of operational failure is high, emergency contact numbers should be satellite service based.
 

EHS Support can assist your facility with release prevention and planning, such as updating an emergency response plan and procedures. If a release occurs, EHS Support can help your company navigate the local, state, and Federal release reporting requirements. Please contact Amy Bauer for more information.

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