EPAFollowing an explosion at its facility that killed three people, a West Virginia metal recycler has agreed to implement extensive, company-wide safeguards to prevent future accidental releases of hazardous chemicals from its facilities.

The EPA says the agreement by AL Solutions resolves alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Easier to assess hazards

“Modern technology is making it easier to assess potential hazards and prevent disasters before they happen,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Facilities that handle extremely hazardous substances should be using these tools to protect their workers and those in surrounding communities.”

Death and debris

In December 2010, three employees who had been handling zirconium powder at the company’s former plant in New Cumberland, W. Va. died following an explosion that may have been caused by an accidental release of the chemical. Debris from the explosion, which destroyed the production area of the facility, was scattered into the yards of local residents. Earlier this year, the company opened a new, automated facility in Burgettstown, Pa. which includes modern technology to safeguard employees and reduce exposure to hazardous metallic dust.

AL Solutions recycles titanium and zirconium raw materials for use as alloying additives by aluminum producers. The company currently operates facilities located in New Cumberland and Weirton, W. Va.; Burgettstown, Pa; and Washington, Mo.

What it'll cost

The EPA estimates that the company will spend approximately $7.8 million to implement extensive measures to ensure compliance with environmental requirements, assess the potential hazards associated with existing and future operations, and take measures to prevent accidental releases and minimize the consequences of releases that may occur. In consultation with EPA, the company has already completed significant portions of the work required by the settlement and a prior administrative order.

Among other requirements, AL Solutions must use advanced monitoring technology, including hydrogen monitoring and infrared cameras, to assess hazardous chemical storage areas to prevent fires and explosions. They must also process or dispose of approximately 10,000 drums of titanium and zirconium, or 2.4 million pounds, being stored at facilities in New Cumberland and Weirton, W. Va., both of which are overburdened communities, by December 2014 to reduce the risk of fire and explosion.

Evidence of previous fires

The company will also pay a $100,000 civil penalty to resolve the alleged CAA violations documented during EPA inspections of the New Cumberland, W. Va. and Washington, MO facilities following the explosion. At the Washington facility, inspectors noted evidence of previous fires, burned insulation, fire-affected wiring, and titanium sludge covering large areas of the floor.

The EPA’s complaint alleged that AL Solutions failed to conduct adequate hazard analyses, and failed to design and maintain the facilities to take account of the extremely hazardous substances there by providing safeguards consistent with industry codes and standards relating to these substances. The State of West Virginia is expected to file a separate complaint soon alleging that the company violated various provisions related to the unlawful storage of waste at the New Cumberland facility. The settlement will resolve those separate allegations. 

Inspections and restrictions

In a related action, AL Solutions recently agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Labor a total of $97,000 to resolve alleged violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. That settlement requires expanded abatement measures that are consistent with the safeguards in EPA’s settlement to provide ongoing worker safety protection at the company’s four facilities. These measures require adequate fire detection systems, process hazard analyses for production areas, regular safety and health inspections, and restrictions on stockpiling combustible materials.