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S. Portland Maine Facility faces EPA Sanction for Unsafe Storage of Hazardous Chemicals

Release Date: 09/19/2011
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – Sept. 19, 2011) – A chemical manufacturing and distribution facility in South Portland, Maine, faces an EPA fine of up to $151,900 for improper storage of hazardous materials, in violation of federal and state laws. 

Monson Companies Inc. of Leominster, Mass., which operates a warehouse, distribution, repackaging and custom blending chemical manufacturing facility, was recently issued a complaint by EPA for its failure to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act, the Maine Hazardous Waste Management Rules and the federal Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act.

According to EPA, Monson violated the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention provisions by not appropriately storing numerous chemicals that, alone or in combination, are extremely hazardous and can cause explosions or other violent reactions. The complaint alleges that the facility stored incompatible chemicals sufficiently close together that a spill or release of one chemical could result in a chemical reaction with other chemicals, creating toxic gases or causing a fire or explosion. 

“EPA’s inspections of chemical warehouses and distribution facilities have revealed some dangerous storage conditions and, often, a failure to adequately warn emergency responders about chemicals that they could encounter while fighting a fire or responding to a release,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Carefully following the appropriate methods when storing hazardous chemicals is easy to do, and can help save lives.”

The complaint also alleges that the facility violated the Clean Air Act by not leaving enough aisle space between piles of hazardous materials to allow personnel or other emergency responders access in the event of an accidental release. The “General Duty Clause” of the Clean Air Act aims to prevent accidental releases of substances that can cause serious harm to the public and the environment from short-term exposures and to reduce the severity of accidental releases that do occur. 

Further, Monson failed to submit a complete emergency and hazardous chemical inventory (Tier II) form for calendar year 2009 to local and state emergency planning officials and to the local fire department, in violation of the federal right-to-know law.  Monson filed a Tier II form for calendar year 2009, but failed to include more than 20 hazardous chemicals found at the facility in quantities that exceeded the regulatory threshold.  Failure of a facility to file these forms leaves the community unaware of the presence of chemicals in the neighborhood that may affect public health and the environment. Also, these forms help federal, state and local authorities plan for emergency response actions and the cleanup of industrial pollution.

The complaint also alleges that Monson failed to conduct hazardous waste determinations, as required by Maine Hazardous Waste Management Rules. EPA inspectors found several containers that were identified by facility personnel as waste, but without any determination of what kind of waste, as required by Maine Hazardous Waste Management Rules. The proper determination of wastes generated or stored on-site is fundamental to a facility’s waste management program, and failure to determine the hazards associated with each waste and label them poses a substantial risk to employees, emergency responders, and the environment.  Monson also failed to maintain an updated hazardous waste contingency plan, as required by Maine law. The facility had a contingency plan, but it was inaccurate and out-of-date in several key areas. Failure of a facility to maintain an adequate hazardous waste contingency plan puts employees, emergency responders, and the community at increased risk in the event of an unexpected incident.

This case arises out of a series of inspections that EPA New England has undertaken at chemical warehouse and distribution facilities in an effort to address compliance issues at these facilities.

Some of the lessons learned from those investigations (many of which are not applicable to Monson’s facility) include the following:
• Lack of sufficient inventory management can result in failure to recognize that chemical inventories have exceeded Clean Air Act and EPCRA regulatory thresholds;
• It is important to ensure the adequate separation of incompatible materials;
• It is important to ensure that the buildings are structurally appropriate for flammable chemical storage and that they are equipped with the proper fire protections;
• Facilities should not assume that the list of chemicals covered by OSHA Process Safety Management regulations is perfectly consistent with the list of chemicals covered by Clean Air Act Risk Management Program regulations;
• Companies violating the Clean Air Act often were also violating EPCRA and/or hazardous waste regulations;
• Companies should ensure that secondary containment systems for chemicals (to contain spills or leaks) are in good repair, that drums are stored in a stable manner, and that there is adequate aisle space for emergency responders;
• Several companies were unaware that the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause can apply even when Risk Management Program regulations do not. The General Duty Clause requires companies that manage extremely hazardous substances to prevent chemical accidents by, among other things, designing and maintaining a safe facility;
• Companies should do regular inspections to ensure the integrity of their indoor or outdoor tank areas, including but not limited to testing of tank integrity, piping systems, and secondary containment areas; and
• Companies storing and distributing large quantities of chemicals must ensure that they have excellent coordination with local emergency responders; local fire departments had safety concerns about some facilities.

Monson has since submitted the required hazardous chemical inventory form and has addressed the Clean Air Act hazards identified by the EPA inspector. The company has also completed hazardous waste determinations and properly shipped certain wastes off site as hazardous wastes.

EPA New England has brought 10 Clean Air Act enforcement actions against companies that warehouse chemicals, including six administrative compliance orders and four penalty orders.

More information: 
- Clean Air Act General Duty Clause (
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/caa/gdcenf.html)
- EPCRA (
http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/epcra.html)
- Tier II (
http://www.epa.gov/osweroe1/content/epcra/tier2.htm)

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