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Environmental Enforcement: Specialty Gas Supplier Settles CERCLA Claims for $62,130

Pennsylvania-based Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., has agreed to pay $62,130 to settle claims by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it violated chemical reporting requirements at its Sparrows Point, Md., facility.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Allentown, Pa., company – a supplier of oxygen, nitrogen, helium and other specialty gases for manufacturing and consumer healthcare – will also stop using chlorine in the plant’s cooling process.

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 federal regulations require immediate reporting of ammonia releases exceeding 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, according to the EPA.

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.

The CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements are specifically designed to protect emergency responders such as paramedics and firefighters as well as the public in the event of an emergency.

Correct reporting under the regulations also allows the emergency services to make critical, time-sensitive decisions on matters such as evacuation and public notification upon being contacted by a company in need of emergency help.

Ammonia is a colorless gas with a very sharp odor, which is familiar to most people because it is used in household cleaners. Ammonia occurs naturally but it does not last very long in the environment. Breathing in high concentrations causes burning of the nose and throat, coughing and eye irritation.

In addition to the civil penalty, Air Products has agreed to substitute aqueous sodium hypochlorite in place of chlorine in its cooling system. The EPA did not allege any chlorine-related violations, but the element has been implicated in the depletion of ozone. This supplementary environmental project will cost Air Products about $39,472.

In the settlement, the company did not admit liability for the alleged violations.

A Missouri company agreed to pay $65 million in December 2010 for violations of CERCLA and EPCRA as well as a host of other federal and state environmental laws.

Doe Run Resources Corp. of St Louis, Mo., agreed to pay penalty for violations at ten of its lead mining and smelting facilities.

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