In the Southeast and Gulf Coast, hurricane season is predictable as is the potential for damage at facilities subject to federal regulation because of the presence of hazardous substances.
In a recent notice, EPA’s Atlanta office notes that it expects these facilities to be prepared for high winds and associated storm surge flooding by having procedures solidly in place to shut down processes or conduct limited operations as specified in an emergency action plan. Another part of this preparation, says the Agency, is knowledge of federal chemical release avoidance and notification requirements and a compliance strategy should an unauthorized release occur.
Unless informed otherwise by all the governing regulatory authorities, a hazardous substance release caused by a natural disaster is not exempt from reporting requirements.
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Updating Your Response Plans
Facilities should check their release response plans against the following federal requirements and make any necessary adjustments without delay.
- Release minimization. CAA Section 112(r) establishes that owners/operators have a general duty to prevent accidental releases of certain listed substances and minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur. This duty involves assessing the potential hazards of such releases, designing and maintaining a safe facility, and taking necessary steps to prevent and minimize their consequences. Also, facilities subject to national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) are required to minimize HAP emissions at all times, including during periods of startup, shutdown, and malfunction.
- Reporting. CERCLA Section 103 requires facilities to immediately notify the National Response Center (NRC) of any release of a hazardous substance in an amount equal to or greater than the reportable quantity (RQ) for that substance. Also EPCRA Section 304 requires owners/operators to immediately notify both their respective state emergency response commissions (SERC) and local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) whenever their facility has released an RQ of a CERCLA hazardous substance or an EPCRA extremely hazardous substance (EHS).
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- Permitted releases. Exemptions from the RQ reporting requirements for certain air emissions are contained in air permits, CAA regulations, and state implementation plans (SIP). However, these exemptions rarely apply to unanticipated releases caused by accidents or malfunctions. Even if you determine that your release is not subject to CAA requirements, there is a strong possibility that CERCLA or EPCRA reporting requirements apply. “In all cases, each facility is responsible for determining whether its releases in excess of an RQ qualify for the federally permitted notification exemption,” says EPA.
- Continuous release. Under CERCLA Section 103(f)(2), certain continuous releases incidental to normal operations are exempt from RQ release notification requirements. However, shutdown operations associated with hazardous weather normally would be considered random, non-routine events. “Thus, RQ releases caused by hazardous weather-induced process shutdown operations typically cannot be reported as amendments/updates to prior continuous release reports,” states the Agency.
EPA adds that emergency contact information that must be documented under any regulation should be updated whenever there is a change that would cause a problem with the timely exchange of required release information. Also, owners/operators should consider the operability issues for land based or cell phone services during hazardous weather events. If the probability of operational failure is high, emergency contact numbers should be satellite service based.