OSHA, EPA Cite Chemcentral for February Explosion


An explosion and fire in February at Chemcentrals Kansas City, Mo. plant involving polybutene has drawn the wrath of two U.S. government agencies that investigated the incident for possible violations of environmental and public health laws. Together the agencies are proposing penalties of more than $560,000 and have announced citations and a federal complaint against the industrial chemicals distributor.

The U.S. Department of Labors Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday cited the Kansas City facility for two alleged willful and four alleged serious violations following the fire and multiple explosions at the plant Feb. 7, and proposes imposing penalties totaling $126,500.

In a statement, Chemcentral said it has received the OSHA citations, and is reviewing them and the proposed penalties.

On Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a civil complaint against Chemcentral for violating two laws, proposing a penalty of $434,260 and requiring the facility to comply with regulations.

According to the EPA, the February 7 explosion occurred when Chemcentral was transferring Indopol brand polybutenes.

The EPA said its investigation found Chemcentral violated the Clean Air Act by failing to identify chemical hazards and to design and maintain a safe facility. The agency also concluded that the company violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act by failing to submit a chemical inventory form for Indopol to the local emergency planning committee, the state emergency response commission, and the local fire department. The inventory, due by March 1 each year, provides information on chemical storage locations and physical or health hazards.

Lubricant additives contain a small portion of polybutenes. Ineos Oligomers Indopol brand polybutenes are widely used as dispersants to control deposits and prevent oil thickening and sludge formation. Polybutenes are also used in a variety of other applications, including adhesives, coatings and cosmetics.

Chemical distribution facilities have the potential to be extremely hazardous, said Charles Adkins, OSHAs regional adminstrator in Kansas City. Employers must remain committed to keeping the workplace safe and healthful.

According to OSHA, the alleged willful citations concern improper storage and handling of liquids, and failure to provide guard rails or other means of fall protection for employees walking and working on top of above-ground storage tanks that were more than 10 feet above the ground. The alleged serious citations address hazards associated with improper distances separating above-ground storage tanks, improper means of egress and failure to train employees on the physical hazards of liquids.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. Serious violations are those which could result in death or serious physical harm, and about which OSHA believes the employer knew or should have known.

Chemcentral has 15 working days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request and participate in an informal conference with OSHAs area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Kansas City-area EPA spokesman Dale Armstrong told Lube Report that the next step is for Chemcentral to decide if it wants to sit down and talk about the complaint informally. They have 30 days to propose informal talks, Armstrong explained. They can present any extenuating or mitigating circumstances, anything that might cause us to propose a bit different penalty. If it doesnt get settled in that time, it goes before a judge, but most of these cases are settled during negotiations.

According to Armstrong, the EPA can propose a penalty based on the severity of alleged violations and how long they went on. He said the $434,260 figure represents an initial proposed penalty amount. The amount includes possible liability for penalties of up to the statutory maximum of $32,500 per day for each violation of the two laws. When we hear what they say, that can change, he added.

Chemcentrals spokesman was out of town this week and unavailable for comment.

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