Post-Harvey Lessons For Chemical Plant Managers

One of the many hazards exposed by Hurricane Harvey occurred in Crosby, Texas, when the Arkema chemical plant suffered fires and small explosions on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Floodwaters caused the fires by penetrating the facility and shutting down the cooling systems designed to stabilize 500,000 pounds of highly flammable materials inside. This ultimately caused a mandatory evacuation for all residents within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant. Local news outlets reported that Arkema had no plan in place for six feet of flooding and its last risk assessment was submitted in 2013.

With Hurricane Irma being tracked at 175 miles per hour in the Caribbean, it is possible that chemical plants in the path of destruction—including Florida and the southeastern United States—may face a similar scenario. Regardless of the location of your plant, here are some tips that can help reduce potential business interruption and physical injury during a major natural disaster:

Update your risk assessment. Use Harvey as a catalyst to revisit your risk assessment, especially since new information has emerged about the potential for natural hazards or disasters that can trigger a chemical accident. As recently discussed, the best assessments do more than just feature a column of checked boxes to achieve an organization’s objectives and mitigate business interruption. “They prioritize top risks, assign risk ownership, and most critically, integrate risk management and accountability into front line business decision-making,” says Dean Simone, PWC’s U.S., Asia-Pacific, and Americas Cluster Risk Assurance Leader.

Submit the assessment to the EPA or other government-appointed body, like your state’s Commission on Environmental Quality. Your facility needs to be able to withstand significant damage to prevent further incidents and public harm. The feedback will hopefully provide some useful criticism to ensure public safety and business continuity.

According to ABC’s Houston affiliate:

In at least one of Arkema’s hazard mitigation plans filed with the federal government, plant officials acknowledged that flooding is a risk. The site sits in a FEMA “high-risk” floodplain that has flooded in the past, leading to a power failure. That time, the site only had six inches of water, a former plant worker said.

It was later revealed in an internal company timeline of events that Arkema did not move temperature-sensitive chemicals via refrigerated trucks and instead banked on its two backup systems, which failed. It seems certain that Arkema will have to consider at least six feet of floodwater when it revises its plan.

Institute an emergency plant management system. This may be included in your company’s risk assessment, and it is important that your employees also know the protocol when it comes to disaster prevention. This includes establishing the lines of authority and communication while on-site and during a catastrophe. OSHA provides guidance for chemical plant management in the event of a mass disaster.

Develop public-facing communications plans. Your communications team, led by an executive officer, should have advisory plans in place in anticipation of, during and following an emergency. The good news is that you don’t have to draft them from scratch. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers communications worksheets, templates and guides dedicated to water, sanitation and hygiene-related emergencies and outbreaks. You can customize these documents to reflect your organization’s capabilities and to alert nearby residents and businesses.

Be sure to issue advisories through all possible outlets, including social media. One thing Arkema did correctly was send press releases, incident statements and alerts via Twitter in addition to traditional outlets in order to keep as many people informed as possible.

Communicate with local authorities and emergency workers. All energy plants impact their local communities, surrounding areas and ecosystems. Your company’s hazard plans should be communicated to local fire and police departments and hospitals. This ensures that emergency workers know the potential dangers your plant faces in the event of a disaster and the steps you plan to take to mitigate them.

U.S. Sues VW

VW logo

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday sued Volkswagen in federal court in Michigan for illegally installing faulty emission control devices in about 600,000 vehicles. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accuses VW of four counts of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act, including tampering with the emissions control system and failing to report violations.

According to a Reuters review of the U.S. complaint, VW could face fines of up to $37,500 per vehicle for each of two violations of the law, up to $3,750 per “defeat device,” and another $37,500 for each day of violation.

Risk Management magazine reported in December 2015 that the affected EA 189 diesel engines were installed in more than 11 million Volkswagen and Audi vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2014. The company announced on Oct. 22 that it was also looking into whether the software might be in earlier versions of its latest EA 288 diesel engine, potentially adding millions more to the total.

Regulators across the globe, including in India, South Korea and Germany, are conducting their own investigations, as are attorneys general in all 50 U.S. states. The Justice Department has been seen as the only agency that might hold executives personally accountable, according to The New York Times.

The government is seeking a number of penalties against the company, including fines and further actions to mitigate the emission of harmful pollutants. A federal court will determine what actions the company must take to reduce emissions and a dollar figure for the penalty.

VW (VOWG_p.DE) shares fell as much as 6% to a six-week low on Jan. 5, the biggest drop yet on Germany’s blue-chip DAX index, Reuters said.

EPA, DuPont Reach Settlement Over Pesticide Violations

Failure to register and label a pesticide with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has netted a penalty of $1.85 million for DuPont, the EPA announced today.

DuPont did not submit reports about the potential adverse effects of an herbicide product called Imprelis, introduced in 2010, the EPA said in a statement. The agency alleges that from October 2010 through June 2011, DuPont distributed or sold Imprelis on 320 occasions with labeling that did not include adequate directions for use, warnings or caution statements to protect non-target plants.

The product was available in 4.5 fl. oz., 1 gallon and 2.5 gallon size containers, and was primarily sold to pest control professionals servicing the lawn, golf, turf and weed control sectors from New Jersey to Wisconsin, the EPA said. Customers who applied the product found that it led to damage and death of some types of coniferous trees, including Norway spruce and white pine.

In June 2011, the EPA started to get complaints from state pesticide agencies regarding evergreen damage related to use of Imprelis. According to the EPA, DuPont reported it received more than 7,000 claims of death or damage to trees. Cases of tree damage and death were widespread in the Midwest, especially Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Indiana investigated more than 400 cases of tree damage related to Imprelis in 2011, the EPA said.

The agency added that media reports put claims as high as 30,000 by homeowners, landscapers, golf courses and entities with crop damage from the use of the herbicide.

DuPont stopped selling the product in August 2011 and in 2013, the Wilmington, Delaware-based company reached a settlement with representative plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit in federal court in Pennsylvania.

Reuters reported that under the settlement agreement, DuPont will pay property owners to remove and replace damaged trees and other losses. Businesses that applied the herbicide to the property of others will also be compensated for customer site visits and other expenses.

The settlement provides up to $7 million in attorney’s fees and also costs for plaintiffs’ lawyers, Reuters said.

According to the EPA:

Pesticide registrants such as DuPont who violate FIFRA are subject to maximum civil penalty of $7,500 for each offense per FIFRA section 14(a)(1), as amended. In determining an appropriate civil penalty amount, FIFRA section 14(a)(4) requires that EPA consider the appropriateness of such penalty to the size of the violator’s business, the effect of the penalty on the violator’s ability to continue in business, and the gravity of the violation.


The Gulf is Not the Only Place Experiencing an Oil Spill: UPDATE

[Updated with video]

With eyes and media attention still focused on the Gulf of Mexico and the largest oil spill in U.S. history, it’s no wonder little attention has been paid to, what some are calling, possibly the largest oil spill in the Midwest.

A 30-inch pipeline burst earlier this week and spilled some 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River, which flows into the enormous Lake Michigan. The spill has reached 35 miles of the river and left animals and plants in and along the river coated with oil.

The owner of the pipeline, Enbridge Energy Partners, responded to the leak by placing 28,000 feet of boom and more than 300 clean-up workers at the site. Governor Jennifer M. Granholm criticized Enbridge officials, however, claiming there are too few workers on site for the size of the spill and that the oil had reached farther than previously known.

Other officials also questioned Enbridge’s response. Representative Mark Schauer, a Michigan Democrat, said he was angry that it took Enbridge several hours on Monday to report the leak after it was discovered. He said he feared that the leak may have started earlier on Sunday and that the amount of oil in the river could be much more than the company’s estimate.

The Environmental Protection Agency is involved and recently released a statement that the spill may have exceeded one million gallons. With Lake Michigan only 80 miles downstream from the spill, many are fearing the worst, including Gov. Granholm.

Granholm warned of a “tragedy of historic proportions” if the oil reaches Lake Michigan. “The last thing any of us want to see is a smaller version of what has happened in the Gulf,” Granholm said Wednesday. “From my perspective the response has been anemic.”

Enbridge’s President and CEO Patrick D. Daniel has taken responsibility for the spill, claiming, “This is our mess. We’re going to clean it up.” Hopefully that happens before the oil spreads to the Great Lakes.

Here’s a video of yet another oil disaster: