A fine levied by federal authorities against a national packaging company should be a warning to others of the consequences of failing to adhere to the Clean Air Act and other safety regulations.
Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) has agreed to pay $2.5 million in civil penalties to resolve the allegation that it violated part of the Clean Air Act at its containerboard production mill in DeRidder, Louisiana.
The penalties come after an explosion at the mill that killed three workers and released hazardous substances into the environment.
The case is a wake-up call for packaging companies that often use complex machinery and chemicals to create packaging for products. Let’s break down the case against Packaging Corporation of America and how other packaging companies can prevent a similar fate.
The Case Against PCA
The $2.5 million in civil penalties are to resolve allegations that the business violated the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause and Risk Management Program Regulations at its Louisiana plant, according to the U.S. Departments Of Justice.
In the complaint, the United States and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) allege nine violations that stem from a fatal explosion at the DeRidder mill in 2017. The explosion launched a 100,000-gallon storage tank into the air and over a six-story building before it landed on mill equipment. The blast killed three workers and injured seven.
Investigators say the explosion occurred when contract welders were repairing cracks on two pipelines near the tank, which held liquid and highly flammable gases. These vapors ignited, causing the explosion.
The blast from the explosion caused property damage, which then caused hazardous substances to be released into the environment.
A Clear Message To Other Packaging Companies
After the explosion, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspected the mill and uncovered more Clean Air Act violations.
In a news release, Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said that the case demonstrates the “tragic impacts to human life and the environment that can result from failures to follow appropriate chemical accident prevention and preparation requirements.”
Among these preparation requirements that should have been made was the emptying of the storage tank nearby the work, which would have removed the explosion vapors in the immediate vicinity.
“This settlement both holds the Packaging Corporation of America accountable for failures that contributed to this accident and sends a clear message to corporations across the county on the importance of implementing appropriate chemical safety measures,” Starfield said.
Why The Clean Air Act Exists
The Clean Air Act is the primary federal air quality law. It is intended to reduce and control air pollution. Specifically, Section 112(r) and accompanying regulations help prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances.
It’s a section of the law that every manufacturer in the county should know. The explosion at the DeRidder mill is a prime example of what happens when this part of the Clean Air Act is not followed.
Congress added section 112(r) after a catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate in India in 1984. The release killed more than 3,400 people and injured another 200,000. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities like Packaging Corporation of America must:
- Identify potential hazards
- Design and maintain a safe facility
- Minimize any consequences of accidental releases
- Comply with regulatory prevention measures
The goal of the provision is to reduce the risk of accidents that threaten nearby citizens and the environment.
How Waste Management Can Help Packaging Companies
An experienced hazardous waste management company can help prevent accidents like the one that occurred at Packaging Corporation of America through a number of services.
One of the investigator’s findings pointed toward a foul condensate tank containing hazardous and flammable byproducts of the pulping process. Investigators concluded that the items in the tank should have been emptied before welders began work in order to avoid any sparks that would ignite nearby vapors from the tank.
If your facility has tanks onsite that hold flammable liquids, it’s critical to take the right steps to remove these substances before welding or any other actions that could produce a spark occur. Partnering with an industrial tank cleaning service can help with this process, as well as ensure your tank of functional and maintained over time.
If an accident does occur, it’s also important to have a hazardous waste company with experience in emergency response on standby. Some of PCA’s alleged violations stemmed from what occurred after the explosion as toxins were released into the environment. Working with a company that has a Haz Mat Team available and ready to go 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, may help minimize any further impact from an accident.
Additional services where a waste management company can help local or national packaging services is with hazardous waste training. In a packaging facility, there are many roles employees take, whether it’s in the design of custom packaging products, manufacturing or the actual packaging of goods. It’s important that all employees understand the risk that the chemicals around them pose and any safety protocols in place. This information can be the difference between life and death in serious situations.
Finally, one of the biggest benefits the best waste management companies provide is a hazardous waste walk-through program. Consultative in nature, a walk-through can help prevent a problem before it becomes costly. During a hazardous waste walk-through, an experienced team will evaluate your procedures to ensure they are effective and meet all state and federal regulations.
In addition, experienced consultants will look at your current processes in place, including your waste storage and containers, emergency readiness and employee training procedures.
While no company wants or expects an event like the one at the Louisiana plant to occur, there are steps you can take as a packaging company to help prevent them and protect your employees.