The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., headquartered in Allentown, agreed to settle alleged violations of toxic chemical reporting requirements at its Sparrows Point, Md., plant. The company will pay a $62,130 penalty and discontinue the use of chlorine in its cooling process at the Maryland plant.
According to the EPA consent agreement, releases of ammonia in November 2007 and in November 2008 were not immediately reported to all designated emergency response officials as required by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
The CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements are specifically designed to protect first responders as well as the public in the event of an emergency. When companies immediately contact federal, state and local emergency responders, critical decisions can be made on how to conduct the response and whether to activate warning systems, public notification, evacuation, and arrange for appropriate medical assistance.
The federal regulations require immediate reporting of ammonia releases when they exceed 100 pounds. On Nov. 3, 2007, at about 3 a.m., an estimated 4,000 pounds of ammonia were released. On Nov. 20, 2008, at about 4 p.m., an estimated 2,589 pounds of ammonia were released.
In the 2007 incident, Air Products failed to immediately notify the National Response Center, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and the Baltimore County Local Emergency Planning Committee. In the 2008 incident, Air Products failed to notify MDE.
Ammonia is a colorless gas with a very sharp odor, which is familiar to most people because it is used in smelling salts and household cleaners. Ammonia occurs naturally but it does not last very long in the environment. After you breathe in ammonia, you breathe most of it out again, but breathing in high concentrations causes burning of the nose and throat, coughing and eye irritation. Depending on the concentration, the effects of ammonia may be successfully treated.
In addition to the civil penalty, Air Products and Chemicals Inc. has agreed to substitute aqueous sodium hypochlorite in place of chlorine in its cooling system, a supplementary environmental project valued at $39,472. Chlorine has been implicated in the depletion of ozone.
In the settlement, the company - a supplier of oxygen, nitrogen, helium and other specialty gases for manufacturing and consumer healthcare - did not admit liability for the alleged violations.
For more information on EPA's emergency management programs, visit www.epa.gov/emergencies/programs.htm.