The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that AL Solutions, a West Virginia-based metals recycling firm, has agreed to implement company-wide safeguards to prevent future accidental releases of hazardous chemicals from its facilities, resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations stemming from an explosion at the company’s New Cumberland, W.Va. facility that killed three people.
Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, says, “Modern technology is making it easier to assess potential hazards and prevent disasters before they happen. Facilities that handle extremely hazardous substances should be using these tools to protect their workers and those in surrounding communities.” She adds that this settlement makes use of such technology a requirement for AL Solutions.
AL Solutions recycles titanium and zirconium raw materials for use as alloying additives by aluminum producers. The company currently operates facilities in New Cumberland and Weirton, W.Va.; Burgettstown, Pa; and Washington, Mo.
In December 2010, three employees who had been handling zirconium powder at the company’s former plant in New Cumberland died following an explosion that may have been caused by an accidental release of the chemical. Debris from the explosion, which destroyed the production area of the facility, was scattered into the yards of local residents. Earlier this year, the company opened a new, automated facility in Burgettstown, Pa., which includes modern technology to safeguard employees and reduce exposure to hazardous metallic dust, according to the EPA.
The EPA estimates that AL Solutions will spend about $7.8 million to implement extensive measures to ensure compliance with environmental requirements, assess the potential hazards associated with existing and future operations and take measures to prevent accidental releases and minimize the consequences of releases that may occur. In consultation with EPA, the company has already completed significant portions of the work required by the settlement and a prior administrative order, the EPA reports.
Among other requirements, AL Solutions is required to use advanced monitoring technology, including hydrogen monitoring and infrared cameras, to assess hazardous chemical storage areas to prevent fires and explosions. The company also must process or dispose of about 10,000 drums of titanium and zirconium being stored at facilities in New Cumberland and Weirton, both of which are overburdened communities, by December 2014 to reduce the risk of fire and explosion, the EPA reports.
The company also will pay a $100,000 civil penalty to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations documented during EPA inspections of the New Cumberland and Washington facilities following the explosion. At the Washington facility, inspectors noted evidence of previous fires, burned insulation, fire-affected wiring and titanium sludge covering large areas of the floor.
EPA’s complaint alleged that AL Solutions failed to conduct adequate hazard analyses and failed to design and maintain the facilities to take account of the extremely hazardous substances there by providing safeguards consistent with industry codes and standards relating to these substances. The state of West Virginia is expected to file a separate complaint alleging that the company violated various provisions related to the unlawful storage of waste at its New Cumberland facility. The settlement will resolve those separate allegations.
In a related action, AL Solutions has agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Labor $97,000 to resolve alleged violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). This settlement, subject to final approval by an Administrative Law Judge, requires expanded abatement measures that are consistent with the safeguards in EPA’s settlement to provide ongoing worker safety protection at the company’s four facilities. The measures require adequate fire detection systems, process hazard analyses for production areas, regular safety and health inspections and restrictions on stockpiling combustible materials.
Since the explosion, EPA and OSHA have coordinated their investigations and shared information, which has resulted in settlements designed to protect workers, communities and the environment, the agencies say.
More information on the settlement is available at www2.epa.gov/enforcement/al-solutions-inc-settlement.