EPA fines Carson Facility for safety lapses that led to toxic air leak

Monday, October 10th, 2016. Filed under: Environment Local News Services
Logo of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Logo of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with Eco Services Operations Corp., located in Carson, Calif., for violations of federal laws related to a large release of 65,049 pounds of sulfur dioxide in 2013. The company will pay a $106,000 civil penalty and has to come into compliance.

“It is crucial for companies to take all necessary steps to maintain safe operations,” said Alexis Strauss, Acting Regional Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region. “EPA will continue to do whatever it takes to protect workers and residents from accidental releases.”

On November 18, 2013, the facility released 65,049 pounds of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere over a five-hour period during start-up operations and did not notify the appropriate officials until eight hours after the release began. Employees at a neighboring business called emergency responders, reporting upper respiratory pain and eye irritation.  Eleven of these workers were transported to local hospitals where they were treated and released that same evening.

EPA’s 2014 investigation found that the facility failed to follow proper operating procedures, failed to immediately cease operations when multiple alarms sounded, failed to properly train employees relating to alarm response, and failed to conduct a thorough pre-startup safety routine which resulted in a valve that should have been opened, to remain closed. As a result the facility failed to maintain a safe facility and minimize the consequences of the release. The design and maintenance failures that led to the release violated the Clean Air Act, and the failure to provide immediate notice to officials of the release violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.

In addition to the civil penalty the company has taken the following actions to return into compliance with federal laws and prevent another accidental release including:

•             updating the startup checklist and standard operating procedures;

•             conducting training for employees on the updated procedures; and

•             adding an additional alarm to indicate if the process is not working properly.

Eco Services Operations Corp., located at 20720 S. Wilmington Ave. in the City of Carson, produces and regenerates sulfuric acid used by nearby refineries and other industrial facilities. The facility is primarily surrounded by other industrial businesses, and is less than a half-mile from residential communities

The federal Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause requires owners and operators of facilities producing, processing, handling, or storing hazardous substances to design and maintain a safe facility to prevent releases, and to minimize the consequences of accidental releases when they do occur.  Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act requires companies to immediately report unregulated releases that exceed the reportable quantity threshold.

Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas that can cause death or permanent injury after very short exposure to small quantities.  It is also a significant contributor to acid rain, smog and haze.

For more information about Community Right-to-Know, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/epcra/what-epcra

For more information on the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/rmp/general-duty-clause-fact-sheet

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