EPA Proposal on Nonreactive Solids Would Subject Fewer Facilities to Planning Duties

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The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule April 15 to revise threshold calculations for 157 “extremely hazardous substances” that are nonreactive in solid form, subjecting fewer facilities to emergency planning requirements (76 Fed. Reg. 21,299).

Although the rule is not expected to affect many facilities, it will conserve resources and allow greater concentration on chemicals that are more hazardous than the nonreactive solids, EPA said.

EPA is proposing that facilities multiply the amount of an extremely hazardous substance chemical that is handled onsite as a solid in solution by 0.2 and then determine whether the stored amount equals or exceeds the established threshold planning quantity.

If the amount does not equal or exceed the threshold planning quantity, then the facility is not subject to Section 302 emergency planning requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

The proposed rule applies to the 157 nonreactive solid chemicals on EPA's list of 355 extremely hazardous chemicals. The list identifies chemicals that could cause serious irreversible health effects when released into the air.

Entities affected by the proposed rule are those organizations and facilities subject to Section 302 of EPCRA and its implementing regulations found in 40 C.F.R. part 355.

Thresholds Trigger Notice, Planning Duties.

Under EPCRA, the agency sets threshold planning quantities, expressed in pounds, for chemicals that meet its definition of extremely hazardous substances. If a facility has onsite an amount of one of these chemicals that is equal to or in excess of its threshold planning quantity, it must notify the State Emergency Response Commission and the Local Emergency Planning Committee, and participate in local emergency planning activities.

EPA said it believes the proposed rule will benefit these state and local organizations by allowing them to better focus their resources on those amounts of the extremely hazardous chemicals that will potentially cause the greatest harm when released and to expend fewer resources on those that would cause less harm when released.

The threshold planning quantities were originally developed as relative measures of concern rather than absolute values, EPA said. The ranking was based on an index of toxicity, physical state, and potential for the chemical to become airborne.

Chemicals with the lowest risk were assigned a threshold planning quantity of 10,000 pounds, while the statutory two-pound limit established a “reasonable lower limit,” the agency said. Between these two numbers, chemicals were assigned to intermediate categories of 100, 500, or 1,000 pounds based on risk, the agency said.

The planning quantities are not necessarily applicable to any specific situation with respect to predicting the actual quantity or “safe” level, EPA said. That is best determined by the local planning authorities using specific parameters for that facility because there are wide variations of site-specific conditions that affect airborne dispersion, according to the agency.

Few Facilities Affected.

The current threshold planning quantity for solids in solution is based on an assumption that the entire quantity of solid chemical in a solution at a facility has the potential to become airborne in the event of an accidental release, according to EPA.

EPA said it is proposing the rule based on new data that shows less potential for the solid chemical in solution to remain airborne in an accidental release, EPA said.

The agency said it does not have enough information to determine the number of facilities affected by the proposed rule, but suspects it will be minimal because the agency believes many facilities handle other extremely hazardous substances on the list that would continue to trigger emergency planning requirements.

Comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-SFUND-2010-0586, should be sent by June 14 to the federal rulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov.

By Pat Ware

Additional information is available from Kathy Franklin at (202) 564-7987 or at franklin.kathy@epa.gov.

The proposal is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-04-15/pdf/2011-9096.pdf.

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