MFA, EPA Reach Settlement to Address Alleged Chemical Accident Prevention Violations
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. EPA have entered into a consent decree with MFA Inc., headquartered in Columbia, MO, and its wholly owned subsidiary MFA Enterprises, Inc., to address alleged chemical accident prevention and preparedness violations under the Risk Management Program of the Clean Air Act. According to a press release on EPA.gov, the alleged violations relate to the companies’ management of anhydrous ammonia at nine Missouri facilities, which have a combined inventory of more than 4.3 million pounds of the chemical. Under the settlement agreement, MFA will assure that its accident prevention program complies with all applicable Clean Air Act requirements, will install emergency shutoff equipment at 53 facilities, and will pay a civil monetary penalty of $850,000.
“Accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia fertilizers can be extremely dangerous. When it is used and stored properly, it helps the local agriculture industry meet the needs of our communities, and be competitive in the marketplace,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford. “This settlement ensures the rule of law is being followed by MFA, and that it is working responsibly to protect the communities and its workers where each of these facilities is located.”
“This settlement will protect the communities surrounding MFA facilities by helping to prevent releases of harmful chemicals,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “By bringing MFA facilities into compliance with the Clean Air Act, this agreement will also substantially improve the maintenance and emergency systems that keep MFA workers safe.”
In 2007, MFA pled guilty to one criminal misdemeanor violation of the Clean Air Act’s accident prevention provision, and admitted it was negligent in failing to inspect, detect wear, and replace a valve on an ammonia storage tank where a release from that valve had hospitalized a worker. As part of the 2007 plea agreement, MFA agreed to come into compliance with applicable industry standards and safety requirements for the storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia. Beginning in 2012, EPA Region 7 conducted inspections and evaluated MFA’s compliance at facilities in Missouri and found that, despite the 2007 plea, numerous facilities did not conform to applicable industry standards. EPA also discovered several unreported ammonia releases that had injured workers.
The Complaint alleges numerous violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requirements at nine MFA facilities. Among MFA’s most common alleged violations, it failed to: (1) implement procedures to maintain its equipment; (2) properly conduct hazard reviews and address any hazards found in a timely manner; (3) develop and implement written operating procedures that provide clear instructions for safely conducting activities; and (4) disclose in its Risk Management Program submissions all incidents of accidental chemical releases that injured MFA employees.
Under the proposed settlement, MFA must create and implement corporate policies and engineering specifications for the storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia and a corporate-wide inventory maintenance system. It must also inspect and remedy any problems found within certain parts of its process equipment. Additionally, MFA must update the information it provides to EPA on accidental releases, and it must create and maintain a publicly available portion of its website listing accidents and releases that occur after the Consent Decree is lodged with the court. Finally, the Consent Decree requires MFA to hire an independent third-party auditor to conduct Risk Management Program audits at twenty facilities to identify and correct any potential violations of its risk management program under the Clean Air Act.
Also, as a part of the agreement, MFA will install emergency electronic shutoff systems at no fewer than 53 of its facilities. The electronic shutoff systems must include emergency stop buttons and a remote stop transmitter, which can be worn by an employee to reduce response time to a potential release. The systems are designed to close all shutoff valves and shut down liquid and vapor pumps facility-wide. The estimated cost to implement these systems is about $400,000.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.