Category Archives: chemical accidents

Secondary Containment for Hazardous Waste Generators

I was reading the June 2011 issue of Pollution Engineering magazine and noticed that there was an article in it that talked about secondary containment for hazardous waste container storage areas. It cited 40 CFR 264.175. The article was written by someone who makes and sells secondary containment units.

It is important to understand that there is NO federal requirement for secondary containment at hazardous waste storage area IF you are a generator. 40 CFR 264.175 pertains only to TSDF – these are the commercial facilities that treat store and dispose of other people’s hazardous wastes and they have a RCRA Part B permit.

Waste generators are exempt from this requirement because they store their wastes for no longer than 90/180/270 days. As long as they stay within their appropriate time limits, they are not required to have a RCRA permit and 40 CFR 264.175 does not apply.

It is good management practice to have secondary containment but it is NOT required by federal law. Some states do have state laws that require secondary containment for anyone who stores wastes on site. Pennsylvania is one of them.


Internal communication or alarm system

One of the most frequently cited violations under RCRA is the lack of an internal communication system at places where hazardous wastes are being handled.

40CFR264.34 (a) states that “whenever hazardous waste is being poured, mixed, spread, or otherwise handled, all personnel involved in the operation must have immediate access to an internal alarm or emergency communication device, either directly or through visual or voice contact with another employee”.

40CFR 264.32(b) goes on to state that “if there is ever just one employee on the premises while the facility is operating, he must have immediate access to a device, such as a telephone (immediately available at the scene of operation) or a hand-held two-way radio, capable of summoning external emergency assistance.”

The requirements are pretty clear. Yet many facilities do not have them and end up being cited by the inspector.

We have scheduled several online live webinars to discuss the most frequently cited RCRA violations and how to avoid them.

What to do after a chemical spill?

In this post, we review several keys things you need to do right after you have a chemical accident.

  1. The first priority is human lives. Make sure your employees are alright and their health and safety are secure. If the spill involves ignitable chemicals, make sure all ignition sources are turned off.
  2. Contain the chemical spill or accident.
  3. Estimate the amount of spill and determine the Federal Reportable Quantity (RQ) of the chemical that has been spill. The RQ can be found in the List of Lists. This is where preparation comes in handy. If you had reviewed your chemical inventory and determined the appropriate RQ before the spill occurred, you would be in a much better shape.
  4. Report all spill amounts that exceed the RQ to the National Response Center at 1-800- 424-8802  as soon as possible.
  5. Check to see if there are any spill reporting requirements mandated by your state agency. Many state agencies require you to report spills that are much below the federal RQ.  A list of state reporting requirements can be found here.
  6. If your spill or chemical release has affected your neighbors in your community, now is the time to be forthright and let your community know what has happened. Do NOT try to stonewall or hide the spills. Your neighbors already know about your spill. So why hide it. Can you imagine how much worse publicity BP would have gotten if it had denied there was an oil spill in the Gulf? They just need to hear from YOU the extent and scope of your accident. Be upfront about it. Don’t try to spin it though some public relations agents. Don’t deny it. If you try to hide it or spin it now, it will only make you look very bad when the truth comes out. And the truth will come out.
  7. Tell your community the steps you are taking to mitigate the spills and any further steps you plan to take to prevent it from happening again. Your neighbors need to know that you are on top of the situation. They need to hear from you directly. Not from some PR spokesman.
  8. Keep your community up-to-date on the mitigation measures you are taking.

Many people are under the misconception that if you are open to the public after the spills, it will invite law suits. That’s not true. If you are going to be sued, you are going to be sued whether you are upfront or not. Being evasive and untruthful will only hurt your credibility and your standing in the community.

Note: The topics of Emergency planning and Community Right to Know are covered in our 2-day environmental compliance seminars. Over 2000 environmental professionals have attended our seminars.

Here is what happens when you store chemical improperly

There was a chemical accident at a hazardous waste storage facility a number of years ago that released a massive amount of chlorine gas and caused the town to be evacuated.

The chemical Safety Board conducted an investigation and the following is some of its findings.

When you stack chlorine chemical on top of some strong oxidizer, you get yourself an explosive mixture.

A new beginning for BP?

BP has a new CEO today.

A few days ago, BP signed a Consent Decree with the Department of Justice and agreed to pay $13 million for various Risk Management Plan violations under the Clean Air Act at its Texas City refinery. If you recall, there was a major incident at that refinery back in March of 2005 where 15 people were killed.

Thus far, BP has paid $137 million in fines which includes $50.61 million to OSHA for Failure to Abate violations under OSHA’s Process Safety Management standards. It has also spent $1.4 billion in corrective action. The OSHA fine is the largest fine in OSHA’s history.

BP conducted many internal environmental and safety audits before the March 2005 incident. Many safety and environmental issues were raised but little or no action was taken – according to the Chemical Safety Board investigators.

An expensive lesson learned?

More on the Xcel saga

In my last post, I presented the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s finding about one of the contributing factors that lead to the death of 5 contractors. Apparently, the Board was not very happy with the way Xcel conducted itself during the Board’s investigation. Here is a letter the Board sent to the CEO of Xcel expressing its displeasure.

The company actually went to federal court to try to block the release of the CSB report and its request was denied by the federal judge. The company is currently under criminal prosecution.

We have 2-day environmental regulations seminars scheduled in Florida (Fort Myers and Orlando), California (Santa Ana and San Francisco), Nevada (Las Vegas), Georgia (Atlanta), Texas (Houston), New Jersey (Newark) and Virginia (Virginia Beach). For our latest 2010/2011 environmental seminar schedule, click here.

Deadly accident waiting to happen…and it did

Many corporate purchasing departments have a policy of selecting the lowest bidder. That’s all fine if you are purchasing pencils and paper clips. But when it comes to safety related work, here are 5 deadly reasons why you should NOT always go with the lowest bidder when hiring outside contractors:


This video is an excerpt from the US Chemical Safety Board. Let’s learn from others’ fatal mistakes.