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UPDATED: GASP Lauds Enforcement Order, $62K Civil Penalty Against Neville Chemical But Calls on ACHD to Address Potential Public Health Risks

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) on Tuesday issued an enforcement order to Neville Chemical Company for violating numerous provisions of its Title V air quality permit during an overnight incident in early September – fining the company $62,075.

According to a news release distributed by ACHD:

In the early morning hours of September 2, first responders, including Allegheny County Emergency Services and Ohio Township Police, responded to the Neville Chemical Company following reports of a strong odor. The Health Department also sent enforcement inspectors to investigate the source of the odor.

All breakdowns at a permitted facility must be reported to the Health Department within one hour. In this case, the Health Department received the initial breakdown report 33 hours after the incident. Neville Chemical Company reported that one of the bottom valves leaked on a heat polymerization still, allowing raw material to enter a resin kettle and release a hydrocarbon mixture into the air.

Per the enforcement order, Neville Chemical Company must submit a corrective action plan to ensure that foreign volatile material does not enter their resin kettles in the future. They have 60 days from the date of the order to submit their plan. The company was also assessed a civil penalty of $62,075.00.

Payment of the fine will go to the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund. 

The penalty is based on the following violations:

  • Exceeding the short-term emissions limit allowed by the Title V permit for Volatile Organic Compounds,
  • Exceeding the short- and long-term emissions limits allowed by the Title V permit for Hazardous Air Pollutants,
  • Work practices standards violations,
  • Failure to submit a breakdown report on time, and
  • Failure to determine valve failure in a timely manner.

GASP lauded ACHD for taking this action.

“This is the type of swift response residents should come to expect from the Allegheny County Health Department,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “We thank ACHD for holding the company accountable.”

But having decisively assessed blame for the incident, one question remains for ACHD: what were the impacts?

The Enforcement Order states, “[t]he breakdown resulted in a total of . . . 956 pounds (0.478 tons) of [Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs)]” being released over a five-hour period. The Order further states that kettles in Neville Chemical’s No. 2 Packaging Center have a “long-term permit limit of 0.36 tons [of HAPs] per year.” That means this incident caused more hazardous air pollutants to be emitted in five hours from this particular process than normally would be emitted in a full year.

“A facility process releasing one year’s worth of hazardous emissions in five hours is a troubling thought, but the significance of such a release is tough to gauge without more details,” GASP Staff Attorney Ned Mulcahy said.

He continued:

“The entire facility is permitted to emit over 16 tons of HAPs annually and neither the Enforcement Order nor ACHD’s press release listed the specific chemical pollutants emitted. I would like to see ACHD – as the County’s air quality and public health experts – address any potential adverse health impacts to the community that might have resulted from this incident.”

Editor’s Note: For those who’d like to take a deeper dive into the issue, you can check out Neville Chemical’s Title V operating permit here: http://bit.ly/NevChemTVOP

You can read the technical support document here:  http://bit.ly/NevChemTSD

You can check out the Post-Gazette’s reporting on the enforcement action here.

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