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Fall River, Mass. Water Treatment Plant Upgrades Will Make Community Safer under EPA Settlement

Release Date: 10/06/2014
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

BOSTON – The Fall River, Mass. Water Filtration Plant will make significant upgrades to eliminate the use of chlorine gas at the facility, under the terms of a settlement with EPA for alleged violations of Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention regulations.

The settlement requires Fall River to pay a $5,000 penalty and to implement a project to reduce public health risk in the community by eliminating the annual use of 50 tons of chlorine gas at the facility, and instead use a safer chemical called sodium hypochlorite for water disinfection. EPA estimates the cost to make these facility upgrades to be at least $449,000.

“EPA is pleased that the Fall River Water Treatment facility will be updating its plant and eliminating use of chlorine gas, a drinking water disinfectant. Removing chlorine gas from this facility will eliminate the chance of an accidental release from this source and improve the safety of Fall River residents, while not compromising water treatment,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Facilities that store and use hazardous materials have a special obligation to understand and carefully follow regulations designed to protect people, our communities and our environment from potentially catastrophic consequences of accidents.”

Municipalities and businesses that use chlorine gas or other hazardous chemicals are required to take precautions to avoid violating chemical accident prevention regulations. EPA works with municipalities and businesses using chlorine or other hazardous chemicals to ensure compliance with these regulations and thereby avoid an accidental chemical release.

During a 2013 inspection of the Fall River Water Filtration Plant, EPA documented potentially dangerous conditions related to the storage and handling of chlorine gas. These included inadequate/blocked ventilation, undocumented calibration and/or maintenance program for the chlorine detectors located in each area, and no records indicating whether the detectors were operational and/or functioning properly. The ventilation issue was immediately rectified subsequent to the EPA inspection. Fall River provided documentation that it had corrected the other issues after entering into a consensual compliance order with EPA earlier this year.

The Water Filtration Plant first submitted a Risk Management Plan (RMP) in 1999, and updated it in 2004. However, the facility had failed to submit a five year update in 2009 or at any later time. At the time of the 2013 inspection, facility personnel were unaware of RMP obligations, and they were unable to provide records of the facility-specific implementation of a substantial portion of the program.

The Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan requirements, contained in Section 112(r) of the Act, are designed to prevent and minimize the consequences of an accidental release of hazardous substances, such as chlorine gas. Failure of a facility to prepare and implement an RMP program for an extremely hazardous substance puts a populated area such as Fall River at risk of harm from such accidental releases.

This settlement is part of EPA’s national effort to advance environmental justice by protecting communities such as those around the Fall River facility that are disproportionately impacted by pollution.

Exposure to chlorine gas, an extremely hazardous substance, presents significant health risks because, if it is released, it can be severely corrosive to the eyes, skin, and lungs. In some cases, exposure to high concentrations can be fatal. Inhalation of chlorine at lower concentrations can cause lung inflammation, fluid in the lungs, chest pain, and vomiting. Operators of the Fall River Water Treatment plant will be using sodium hypochlorite as an alternate disinfectant, which is easier to handle and less hazardous than chlorine gas. As with any chemical, appropriate safety precautions should be implemented when using sodium hypochlorite.

As part of its settlement with EPA, the Fall River Water Filtration Plant has certified that it has corrected the dangerous conditions identified by EPA and is now operating its facility in compliance with the Clean Air Act’s RMP requirements. The facility cooperated with EPA in promptly correcting the violations and in reaching a quick settlement.

More information:

-    Risk Management Plans
-    Report an environmental violation

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