Safety Alert Highlights Hazards of Emergency Discharges from Pressure Release Valves

March 13, 2023
In a safety alert released recently, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) urged companies to adopt safer practices for emergency discharges from pressure release valves. Pressure-relief systems are designed to protect equipment from unexpectedly high pressures by transferring hazardous materials to a safe location. But CSB’s safety alert highlights four incidents in which the venting of flammable, toxic, or hazardous materials resulted in 19 fatalities and more than 200 injuries.
In one incident, horizontal piping at a chemical plant in Pasadena, Texas, discharged flammable ethylene vapor near workers. Some were forced to jump from the second or third stories of the plant, while others were injured during the evacuation. In another incident, methyl mercaptan was released from a chemical manufacturing facility in LaPorte, Texas, causing the deaths of four workers. A third incident, in West Carrollton, Ohio, stemmed from the release of highly flammable vapor from a waste recycling process and led to a series of explosions. The fourth incident occurred at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, when a release of flammable hydrocarbons led to an explosion that killed 15 workers and seriously injured 180 people.
CSB’s safety alert recommends that facilities follow guidance from American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice 521, Pressure-Relieving and Depressuring Systems, and API RP 14C, Analysis, Design, Installation, and Testing of Safety Systems for Offshore Production Facilities, and points to resources from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Facilities should also determine safe discharge locations for hazardous chemicals.
For more information, download the safety alert (PDF).
Biden-Harris Administration Proposes Stronger Limits on Water Pollution from Power Plants
The Biden-Harris Administration announced it is proposing to strengthen wastewater discharge standards that apply to coal-fired power plants. The EPA proposal follows the latest science and applies EPA’s longstanding authority under the Clean Water Act to reduce discharges of toxic metals and other pollutants from these power plants into lakes, streams, and other waterbodies. The proposed rule would help protect our nation’s vital water resources that support safe drinking water, agriculture, and healthy communities while providing greater certainty for industry.
“Ensuring the health and safety of all people is EPA’s top priority, and this proposed rule represents an ambitious step toward protecting communities from harmful pollution while providing greater certainty for industry,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s proposed science-based limits will reduce water contamination from coal-fired power plants and help deliver clean air, clean water, and healthy land for all.” 
Coal-fired power plants discharge large volumes of wastewater into waterways such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. The discharges include pollutants such as selenium, mercury, arsenic, nickel, bromide, chloride, and iodide, nutrient pollution, and total dissolved solids. Exposure to these pollutants can harm people and ecosystems through contamination of drinking water sources, recreational waters, and aquatic life.
EPA’s proposed rule would establish more stringent discharge standards for three types of wastewater generated at coal fired power plants: flue gas desulfurization wastewater, bottom ash transport water, and combustion residual leachate. The proposed rule also addresses wastewater produced by coal fired power plants that is stored in surface impoundments (for example, ash ponds). The proposal would define these “legacy” wastewaters and seeks comment on whether to develop more stringent discharge standards for these wastewaters.
EPA is also proposing changes to specific compliance paths for certain “subcategories” of power plants. The Agency's proposal would retain and refresh a compliance path for coal-fired power plants that commit to stop burning coal by 2028. The Agency is issuing a direct final rule and parallel proposal to allow power plants to opt into this compliance path. Additionally, power plants that are in the process of complying with existing regulations and plan to stop burning coal by 2032, would be able to comply with the proposed rule.
EPA estimates that the proposed rule would reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from coal-fired power plants by approximately 584 million pounds per year. This means that communities across the country would benefit from cleaner and more resilient water resources, especially low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Learn more about the proposed Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Category and direct final rule, including how to comment or participate in an online public hearing.
Failure to Follow Hazardous Waste Management Rules Leads to Penalty
Under a recent settlement with the EPA, Precise Packaging, LLC. (a subsidiary of Delaware-based PLZ Corp.) of Fall River, Mass. will now perform training, oversight, and reporting to regulators necessary to comply with federal and state laws regulating the management of hazardous waste.
The company will also pay a penalty of $43,877 under the terms of the settlement and has agreed to additional measures benefiting the local community.
"EPA's action underscores the importance of the safe management of chemicals, and when a company like Precise Packaging does not comply with its safety obligations, it threatens the safety of our communities," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "EPA's work is designed to protect all communities from chemical releases, and we have a special responsibility to reduce the burden of environmental pollution and risks of chemical accidents to the workers and residents of communities that have shouldered a greater share of these impacts."
An EPA inspection of Precise Packaging's hazardous waste management practices identified violations of state and federal hazardous waste management laws, including the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the State of Maine Hazardous Waste Rules. Specifically, EPA alleged that the facility failed to: provide required hazardous waste management training to employees; maintain a sufficient contingency plan designed to prevent and to minimize hazards to public health, safety, or welfare or the environment from unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents; conduct weekly inspections of the containers that held hazardous waste at the facility; maintain accurate records or provide accurate reporting to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), including regarding its status as a "large quantity generator."
The Precise Packaging facility is an aerosol and liquid product manufacturing plant, where the company manufactures an assortment of consumer products. As part of the settlement, the company has confirmed that the facility is complying with state and federal hazardous waste management laws.
In addition, under this settlement Precise Packaging has agreed spend no less than $57,114 on a supplemental environmental project that will provide the Fall River Fire Department with two handheld chemical detection units that permit more effective responses to hazardous-waste-related emergencies, including through better detection of the kind of hazardous waste generated at this facility. This equipment will benefit the community at large, including historically-disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Without proper training, employees may not know how to handle hazardous waste safely and how to respond in an emergency, thereby increasing the likelihood of a release and worker exposure. Not having a complete contingency plan makes responding to a chemical emergency more difficult for both the facility staff and local emergency responders. Conducting regularly scheduled inspections of hazardous waste storage areas is critical to ensuring that problems are identified and rectified in a timely manner in order to prevent a release of hazardous wastes.
More information on EPA enforcement of hazardous waste requirements:
EPA Requires ACS, LLC to Improve Chemical Safety
The EPA has reached a settlement with ACS, LLC over chemical safety violations at its facility in Yuma, Arizona. The company will pay a $75,373 civil penalty and spend another $93,000 towards the purchase of emergency response equipment for the Yuma Fire Department. The facility uses large amounts of anhydrous ammonia for its industrial refrigeration, which provides cold storage for vegetables harvested by local growers. A 2019 EPA inspection of the facility identified significant violations of the Clean Air Act’s risk management program requirements.
“Facilities that store hazardous materials must follow the federal rules that protect human health and the environment from potentially catastrophic accidents,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “Today’s action demonstrates EPA’s commitment to enforce the laws that protect the public, including facility staff, first responders and members of the surrounding Yuma community.”
The inspection revealed process safety and equipment maintenance issues including failure to properly conduct a hazard analysis, failure to document the inspection and testing of equipment, and inadequate written operating procedures and coordination with local emergency planning and response organizations. The company also did not adequately report off-season storage of hazardous substances as required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
As part of the settlement, ACS has corrected all identified violations and agreed to complete a supplemental environmental project valued at $93,000 to purchase emergency response equipment for the Yuma Fire Department. Specifically, the company will purchase handheld radios compliant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency standards for digital radio communications for public safety agencies nationally and internationally.
Proper implementation of risk management programs helps to prepare for and prevent chemical releases at facilities that store large amounts of regulated hazardous substances. The company’s industrial refrigeration system uses large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical highly that is corrosive to skin, eyes, and lungs.
Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances, including anhydrous ammonia. Catastrophic accidents at ammonia refrigeration facilities—historically about 150 each year—result in evacuations as well as fatalities, serious injuries, and other harms to human health and the environment. EPA inspected this facility as part of the Agency’s National Compliance Initiative, which seeks to reduce risks to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of accidental releases and mitigating the consequences of chemical accidents.
A supplemental environmental project is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that a party agrees to undertake as part of the settlement of an enforcement action. Such projects or activities go beyond what could legally be required of the defendant, and secure environmental and/or public health benefits in addition to those achieved by compliance with the law.
USDOT’s Federal Railroad Administration Announces a Supplemental Safety Assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway’s Operations
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently announced its plan to conduct a 60-day supplemental safety assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway following multiple safety incidents. This in-depth assessment of Norfolk Southern is in addition to a number of actions taken by the U.S. Department of Transportation over the past several weeks to improve freight rail safety and accountability to protect workers and communities.
"After a series of derailments and the death of one of its workers, we are initiating this further supplemental safety review of Norfolk Southern, while also calling on Norfolk Southern to act urgently to improve its focus on safety so the company can begin earning back the trust of the public and its employees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This comes as USDOT continues its own urgent actions to further improve freight rail safety and accountability.”
FRA’s safety team will review the findings and recommendations of the 2022 Norfolk Southern system audit and revisit FRA’s recommendations and the scope of the railroad’s responses. In addition, FRA will assess the following operational elements:
  • Track, signal, and rolling stock maintenance, inspection, and repair practices
  • Protection for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives, and rail cars
  • Communication between transportation departments and mechanical and engineering staff
  • Operation control center procedures and dispatcher training
  • Compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations
  • Evaluating results of operational testing of employees’ execution and comprehension of all applicable operating rules and federal regulations
  • Training and qualification programs available to all railroad employees, including engineer and conductor training and certification
  • Maintenance, inspection, and calibration policies and procedures for wayside defect detectors
  • Procedures related to all wayside defect detector alerts
  • Measures implemented to prevent employee fatigue, including the development and implementation of fatigue management programs required as part of FRA’s Risk Reduction Program (RRP) rule
  • Current status of the hazard and risk analysis required by the RRP rule
Information collected through the supplemental safety assessment will exceed the scope of existing FRA audits, providing a more expansive look at Norfolk Southern’s overall safety culture and operations. The information gathered will be used to target specific areas for FRA’s oversight and enforcement efforts and help identify risks beyond the reach of current federal regulations. Finally, FRA will use the information collected to push the Norfolk Southern to develop measures to mitigate risks while identifying appropriate enforcement actions.
FRA will issue a public report on its findings.
Read more about USDOT’s recent actions to improve freight rail safety and accountability here.
Long Island Thermometer Maker's Workers Sickened by Unsafe Exposures to Toxic Metal
Federal workplace safety inspectors have cited a thermometer manufacturer for overexposing their employees to mercury at its West Babylon facility.
OSHA inspectors determined Kessler Thermometer Corp. overexposed employees to airborne elemental mercury in August 2022 while they worked to distill and purify elemental mercury, fill thermometers, blow glass and during calibration and engraving of thermometers and hydrometers.
Agency inspectors found the company willfully exposed and severely sickened workers by allowing the airborne concentration of the toxic metal to exceed the 8-hour, time-weighted average based on biological exposure indices. OSHA inspectors identified 18 serious violations, one willful violation and two other-than-serious violations by Kessler Thermometer Corp. and proposed $195,988 in penalties.
“Kessler Thermometer Corp. knowingly endangered the lives and health of their employees by ignoring basic safeguards to control hazardous mercury in the workplace and failed to acknowledge its employees were being sickened by mercury exposure,” said OSHA Area Director Kevin Sullivan in Westbury, New York. “This company has been operating for about 20 years and knows the dangers their workers face.”
Specifically, the company failed to provide:
  • Engineering controls to reduce mercury exposure
  • Complete and effective respiratory protection and chemical hazard communication programs
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment and clothing
  • An emergency response plan to handle cleanup of spilled mercury
  • Eating and food storage areas free of mercury exposure
  • An emergency shower and appropriate first aid
  • Proper labeling for all hazardous chemical containers
  • Recording of all recordable work-related injuries and illnesses
  • Report a work-related incident resulting in in-patient hospitalization due to mercury poisoning
Kessler Thermometer Corp. operates an 8,000-square-foot laboratory and manufacturing facility in West Babylon. Its current ownership has operated the company since 2002.
Insulation Manufacturer Ignored Safety Standards Leading to Serious Head Injury
A 21-year-old line operator at a LaFayette, Georgia, insulation manufacturer suffered severe head trauma after being caught in a machine's roller. A U.S. Department of Labor investigation determined that the employer willfully ignored federal workplace safety standards.
OSHA issued citations to Bonded Logic, Inc. for two willful, two repeat and 10 serious violations after its investigation of the Aug. 24, 2022, incident. OSHA inspectors found the employer willfully failed to develop and use lockout/tagout procedures to prevent machines from sudden starts or movements during maintenance, and did not control the release of stored energy while machines were serviced.
OSHA has proposed $423,432 in penalties.
Additionally, OSHA identified repeat violations for not installing safety guards on machines and failing to certify forklift operators. The agency also cited the company for failing to:
  • Conduct an evaluation to identify permit-required confined spaces and develop and implement a permit-required confined space program
  • Train employees on the hazards associated with permit-required confined spaces and complete entry permits prior to entering those spaces
  • Ensure energy control devices were applied to all energy sources during maintenance or servicing
  • Maintain proper guarding of chains and sprockets on machinery
"Bonded Logic put profits before safety and now a young worker must cope with the aftermath of a horrible and preventable injury,” said OSHA Area Office Director Jeffery Stawowy in Atlanta-West. "The employer's failure to develop and ensure the use of lockout procedures for employees who work near and perform maintenance on dangerous machinery is hard to comprehend."
OSHA inspected Bonded Logic in 2018 and 2021, issuing three serious and five other-than-serious violations for hazards associated with eye protection, machine guarding, housekeeping, powered industrial trucks and confined space.
Two Sonoco Recycling Locations Receive First Carolina Star Recertification
Safety is engrained in every aspect of life. For some, it is a way of life. This is the case at Sonoco Recycling in Jacksonville and Wilmington. The two sites received their first Carolina Star recertification awards Wednesday, March 1. As Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said during his visit to both sites, “Safety is not just a part of the culture, safety is the culture at the Sonoco Recycling facilities in Jacksonville and Wilmington.” 
The Sonoco Recycling facilities in Jacksonville and Wilmington entered the Carolina Star program in 2019. At the presentation of the awards, the employees at each plant prepared and presented a PowerPoint showing just how seriously they take workplace safety and how integral it is to the culture at Sonoco. They included examples of what they do to keep themselves and their fellow employees safe, such as, providing monthly training, self-reporting/inspections, installing railing, preventative maintenance and creating new walkway paths.
“This is the second Sonoco Recycling facility I have had the pleasure of managing that is a Carolina Star site,” Plant Manager Gus Wiley said. “Carolina Star brings with it a culture and safety mindset you don’t see at many businesses. It’s a state of mind toward continuous improvement that we’re proud to be a part of. We enjoy the fellowship and teamwork our regional team—Safety Sharks—provides. It’s special in the fact that it everyone has a voice in their safety and contributes to our safety culture.”
The Carolina Star Program recognizes leaders in occupational safety and health that are successfully protecting employees from death, injury and illness by implementing comprehensive and effective safety and health programs and management systems. Carolina Star participants are proactive and willingly share their experience and expertise, and they encourage others to work toward comparable success. These worksites are self-sufficient in their ability to control hazards at their worksites.
For more information about the N.C. Department of Labor’s Carolina Building Star Program, please call or email LaMont Smith, Carolina Star’s recognition program manager, at 919-707-7852 or
Workplace Health and Safety Leaders, Programs, and Organizations Honored at Oregon GOSH Conference
Ten leaders in on-the-job safety and health were honored with awards at the 2023 Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health (GOSH) Conference, during a Wednesday, March 8, ceremony at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
A panel of industry professionals judges the awards, which honor extraordinary contributions to the field of workplace safety and health. The categories include association, business leader, innovation, safety and health professional, safety committee, and workplace safety program.
The recipients this year are as follows: 
Association Award – recognizes Oregon-based associations that have made major contributions to safety and health for their members
  • Oregon Trucking Association, which advocates for the trucking industry in Oregon. Its membership includes everyone from single owner-operators to motor carriers with trucks traveling millions of miles annually.
Business Leader Award – recognizes a business leader whose job is not safety and health but who demonstrates commitment to safety and health within their industry
  • Luke Norenberg, plant manager of Oregon Potato Company's processing facility in Boardman.
Innovation Awards – recognizes the employee or team who creates an idea, a product, or a concept that promotes a safer workplace
  • Andrea Dayot, a registered nurse and director of occupational health at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)
  • Flynn BEC, a Portland area company that provides commercial roofing and cladding services, including new roofing and cladding, roof leak repair, waterproofing, alterations, and preventive maintenance.
Safety and Health Professional Awards – recognizes people whose primary job responsibilities are safety and health
  • Dede Montgomery, MS, CIH. A certified industrial hygienist and champion of Total Worker Health, she spent more than 17 years in key roles at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Currently, she is program manager for Our Good Health and Well-Being at Legacy Health.
  • Darren Toy, CSP, environmental, health, and safety regional manager for Andersen Construction in Portland.
Safety Committee/Team Award – recognizes the work of safety committees or teams that made substantial efforts in the prevention of workplace injury and illness
  • Children's Farm Home Workplace Safety and Health Committee. The Corvallis-based Children's Farm Home – part of the nonprofit Trillium Family Services – is a residential psychiatric treatment facility for children.
Workplace Safety Program Awards – recognizes workplace activities or projects that resulted in an outstanding contribution to occupational safety and health
  • Arauco Duraflake Particle Board. Based in Albany, the company manufactures various grades and sizes of particle board panels for use in such applications as cabinets, countertops, shelves, office furniture, and door components.
  • Portland International Airport (PDX) Operations. Owned and operated by the Port of Portland, PDX involves 571 employees who are responsible for safety across multiple departments, including airport operations, maintenance, police, fire and rescue, and administrative support.
  • Whitaker Ellis Builders, Inc. Based in Portland, Whitaker Ellis is a specialty concrete contractor. It specializes in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, including foundations, basement and retaining walls, post-tension decks, and complex architectural concrete.
The GOSH Conference is a joint effort of the American Society of Safety Professionals Columbia-Willamette Chapter, Oregon OSHA – a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services – and labor and businesses in Oregon and southwest Washington.
More information about the conference is on the GOSH website:
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