May 08, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced settlements with six New England companies that resolve alleged violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act, which requires companies and organizations to report their use and release of toxic chemicals to EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Program.
The companies are Franklin Foods of Enosburg Falls, Vermont, Hollingsworth & Vose Company of Groton, Mass., AFC Cable Systems, Inc. of New Bedford, Mass., National Chain Company of Warwick, R.I., Twin Rivers Paper Company of Madawaska, Maine, and Commonwealth Dairy of Brattleboro, Vermont.
"These settlements exemplify how EPA holds commercial enterprises accountable for assuring that they do not harm the communities where they are," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "Assisting, incentivizing, and ensuring facilities comply with required, annual reporting of exactly what chemicals they use and what they're releasing into the environment, keeps all our communities safe and informed, including those who have suffered from disproportionate amounts of environmental pollution."
The next deadline for permitted facilities to file their Toxic Release Reports is July 1, 2023.
All six companies promptly corrected the EPCRA violations after EPA inspections and have filed required reports about their use or generation of toxic chemicals under EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program, allowing the public and local officials to access data about toxic chemicals used and released in their communities. Each company agreed to pay a civil penalty, improved its compliance with TRI requirements, and cooperated with EPA.
More information on the settlements:
- Franklin Foods, in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, allegedly failed to timely file EPCRA Section 313 Toxic Release Inventory ("TRI") reports for nitric acid and nitrate compounds for calendar years 2019 and 2020. Franklin Foods agreed to pay a settlement penalty of $90,294.40.
- Hollingsworth & Vose Company, in Groton, Mass., allegedly failed to submit TRI reports for zinc compounds and barium compounds processed at the Groton facility in calendar year 2019. Hollingsworth & Vose agreed to pay a settlement penalty of $39,705.
- AFC Cable, in New Bedford, Mass., allegedly failed to timely file TRI reports for antimony compounds processed at the facility during calendar years 2018 and 2019. AFC Cable agreed to pay a settlement penalty of $40,000.
- National Chain, in Warwick, R.I., allegedly failed to timely file TRI reports for anhydrous ammonia and silver processed or used at the facility during the 2020 calendar year. National Chain agreed to pay a settlement penalty of $28,260.
- Twin Rivers, in Madawaska, Maine, allegedly failed to timely file TRI reports for nitrate compounds used at the facility during calendar years 2017, 2018, and 2019. Twin Rivers agreed to pay a settlement penalty of $67,721.
- Commonwealth Dairy, in Brattleboro, Vermont, allegedly failed to timely file TRI reports for nitric acid and nitrate compounds for calendar years 2019 and 2020, and for peracetic acid for reporting year 2020. Commonwealth Dairy agreed to pay a settlement penalty of $92,100.40.
The obligation to report toxic chemical use and releases under the Toxic Release Inventory program is included in EPCRA, enacted in 1986, in response to concerns regarding the environmental and safety hazards posed by the use and release of toxic chemicals. The yearly submission of Toxic Release Inventory forms is a key component of the statute. They ensure that citizens and public safety officials have access to information about chemicals at nearby facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. Making such information available to the public and municipal officials also creates a strong incentive for companies to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals and improve overall environmental performance and safety.
Georgetown, South Carolina Chemical Plant To Address Clean Air Act Violations Under Settlement
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have reached a settlement with 3V Sigma USA, Inc. for allegedly violating the federal Clean Air Act at its chemical manufacturing facility in Georgetown, South Carolina. Under the settlement, the company will pay a $731,250 civil penalty and spend an estimated $3 million to strengthen leak detection and repair practices to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) at the Georgetown facility.
“Residents of Georgetown will be better protected from hazardous air pollution as result of EPA’s action,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman. “Besides improving air quality in Georgetown, the settlement also sends a strong message to other companies throughout the Southeast to comply with environmental laws.”
The settlement was filed today along with a complaint that alleges the company violated the Clean Air Act’s requirements for miscellaneous organic chemical manufacturing resulting in excess emissions of HAPs to the atmosphere. These include leak detection and repair requirements, requirements to control emissions from storage tanks and requirements to identify and control wastewater streams.
The compliance measures required under the consent decree will reduce HAP emissions by approximately 12 tons per year. HAPs found at the 3V facility include xylene, methanol, methylene chloride and acrylic acid. Exposure to these substances may cause cancer, blindness, difficulty breathing and impairment of the kidneys and lungs.
The consent decree, lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina in Charleston, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
EPA Orders U.S. Air Force to Address Oil Discharge at Travis Air Force Base
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency order to the U.S. Air Force to enhance and expedite measures to address an ongoing oil discharge into Union Creek from the Travis Air Force Base (Travis AFB) in Solano County, Calif. EPA has determined that a substantial threat exists to local waterbodies and shorelines because of the ongoing discharge and previous similar incidents on Travis AFB.
“This order is critical for ensuring that the Air Force addresses the oil discharge into Union Creek in a thorough and timely manner, and that no impacts to public health occur,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “EPA is committed to fully utilizing our authorities to make sure that the current oil discharge is stopped and similar incidents are prevented.”
The order, issued under the Clean Water Act, compels the Air Force take a series of steps to mitigate the oil discharge, including:
- Utilizing oil spill recovery equipment and techniques to limit the spread of oil in Union Creek;
- Investigating and mitigating the source of the oil;
- Collecting and analyzing water and sediment samples in Union Creek; and
- Implementing actions to prevent oil from entering the storm drain and creek.
- The order also requires the Air Force to enter into a unified command structure that brings together the oil spill response expertise of federal, state and local governments to address the discharge. Agencies actively engaged in the response include EPA, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and Solano County.
Oil discharges to Union Creek from Travis AFB were first identified by the Air Force as early as October 2021, but were not reported to EPA or the National Response Center until February 4, 2022. Since that time, the Air Force has made numerous notifications to the National Response Center regarding an oil sheen on Union Creek, including reporting a spill of jet fuel from a pipeline on the base on August 4, 2022. These spill notifications have continued to occur in 2023. EPA analyses of samples collected from the pipeline spill area and from the sheen on Union Creek indicate the contamination at both areas are likely from a common source. On December 21, 2022, the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Control Board sent the Air Force a notice of noncompliance for discharges of jet fuel to Union Creek.
The Air Force has yet to take action to identify and address the source of the oil discharge to Union Creek. The initial oil spill response efforts implemented by the Air Force at Travis AFB were limited, and these efforts were only upgraded after input from EPA and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response.
Vessel Operator, Captain and Chief Engineer Convicted of Environmental Crimes
Zeus Lines Management S.A. (Zeus), a vessel operating company, pleaded guilty on Monday in Providence, Rhode Island, to maintaining false and incomplete records relating to the discharge of oily bilge and for failing to report a hazardous condition on board the oil tanker Galissas. The company’s chief engineer, Roberto Cayabyab Penaflor, and Captain Jose Ervin Mahigne Porquez also pleaded guilty today for their roles in those crimes. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 8.
According to court documents, Zeus and Penaflor admitted that oily bilge water was illegally dumped from the Galissas directly into the ocean without being properly processed through required pollution prevention equipment. Oily bilge water typically contains oil contamination from the operation and cleaning of machinery on the vessel. They also admitted that these illegal discharges were not recorded in the vessel’s oil record book as required by law.
Specifically, on three separate occasions between November 2021 and February 2022, Penaflor ordered crew members working for him in the engine room to discharge a total of approximately 9,544 gallons of oily bilge water from the vessel’s bilge holding tank directly into the ocean using the vessel’s emergency fire pump, bypassing the vessel’s required pollution prevention equipment. In addition, in preparation for the U.S. Coast Guard’s inspection of the Galissas, Penaflor instructed crew members on several occasions to not tell the Coast Guard about bypassing the pollution prevention equipment resulting in illegal discharges.
“This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of the marine environment, and to safeguarding coastal communities against hazardous conditions,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure those who pollute and endanger our coastal communities are held fully accountable.”
“A critical mission of this office is protecting our environment from pollution and polluters, whether they impact our neighborhoods or precious natural resources like the Narragansett Bay, one of the crown jewels of Rhode Island,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha for the District of Rhode Island. “In this case, a foreign company decided it could ignore its obligation under American law, putting our waters and coastal communities at risk. Today’s guilty pleas are a reminder that this office will enforce our environmental laws to hold violators – individuals and corporate – accountable and protect our vital natural resources and our citizenry.”
“This case demonstrates the U.S. government’s resolve to ensure the safety of life at sea and protect our ports from rogue and negligent actors,” said Rear Admiral John Mauger, Commander of the First Coast Guard District. “Every day, thousands of ships safely call on U.S. ports and handle nearly 95% of U.S. trade that drives our economy and provides for our national security. By sailing into a major U.S. port with a known faulty inert gas generator, the operator, and senior officers of the Galissas endangered not only their shipmates but also the people of Rhode Island. The Coast Guard will continue to train and deploy our vessel examiners to protect mariners and our nation's ports by deterring and detecting unsafe and illegal activity. We appreciate the strong resolve from the Justice Department in holding these rogue actors accountable.
In addition to the illegal discharges of oily bilge water, on Feb. 2, 2022, while the Galissas was conducting cargo operations in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, crew members became aware that the vessel’s inert gas system was inoperable. This system is necessary to ensure that oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks remain at safe levels – at or below 8% – and do not pose a hazardous condition that could lead to an explosion or fire. Rather than remaining in Rotterdam until the inert gas system could be repaired, shore side management of Zeus and Captain Porquez determined that the vessel should instead sail to the United States, where a spare part would be delivered upon the vessel’s arrival for the crew to repair the system.
On Feb. 11, 2022, while the Galissas was transiting the Atlantic Ocean from the Netherlands to the United States, Porquez submitted a required notice of arrival to the U.S. Coast Guard informing the Coast Guard of, among other things, the vessel’s last port of call, planned arrival in the United States and the type of cargo onboard the vessel. In this notice of arrival, Porquez did not report that a hazardous condition existed onboard the vessel (the inoperable inert gas system).
On Feb. 19, 2022, the Galissas arrived off the coast of Rhode Island and although the vessel’s crew received and installed the spare part, the inert gas system remained inoperable. The following day, the U.S. Coast Guard measured the oxygen levels within the vessel’s cargo tanks and found levels ranged between 15 and 17%, well beyond the maximum allowable 8%. The Coast Guard then ordered that the vessel be moved further offshore so as to not endanger the port of Newport, Rhode Island.
Porquez had a logbook created that indicated the cargo tanks were at safe oxygen levels when the vessel left the Netherlands and remained at safe levels during the majority of the vessel’s transit of the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, the crew had not taken any readings of the oxygen levels in the cargo tanks during the vessel’s voyage. Porquez had tasked the vessel’s chief officer with creating this fraudulent logbook that was then presented to the U.S. Coast Guard during its inspection.
Zeus and Penaflor each pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain the oil record book for the Galissas. Zeus and Porquez also pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act for failing to report the vessel’s hazardous condition to the U.S. Coast Guard. Under the terms of the plea agreement Zeus will pay a total monetary penalty of $2.25 million, consisting of a fine of $1,687,500 and a community service payment of $562,500. The community service payment will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund projects to benefit marine and coastal natural resources located in the State of Rhode Island. Additionally, Zeus will serve a four-year term of probation, during which any vessels operated by the company and calling on U.S. ports will be required to implement a robust environmental compliance plan.
The U.S. Coast Guard Southeastern New England Sector and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service are investigating the case.
US Department of Labor Announces National Emphasis Program To Reduce, Prevent Workplace Falls
The U.S. Department of Labor announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun a National Emphasis Program to prevent falls, the leading cause of fatal workplace injuries and the violation the agency cites most frequently in construction industry inspections.
The emphasis program will focus on reducing fall-related injuries and fatalities for people working at heights in all industries. The targeted enforcement program is based on historical Bureau of Labor Statistics data and OSHA enforcement history. BLS data shows that of the 5,190 fatal workplace injuries in 2021, 680 were associated with falls from elevations, about 13 percent of all deaths.
"This national emphasis program aligns all of OSHA's fall protection resources to combat one of the most preventable and significant causes of workplace fatalities," said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. "We're launching this program in concert with the 10th annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction and the industry's Safety Week. Working together, OSHA and employers in all industries can make lasting changes to improve worker safety and save lives."
The program establishes guidance for locating and inspecting fall hazards and allows OSHA compliance safety and health officers to open inspections whenever they observe someone working at heights. An outreach component of the program will focus on educating employers about effective ways to keep their workers safe. If a compliance officer determines an inspection is not necessary after entering a worksite and observing work activities, they will provide outreach on fall protection and leave the site.
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