EPA shares tips to reduce risk from improper chemical storage

By: Ed Zalewski

Publication: Environmental Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 05/03/2022

If your facility manufactures, uses, or stores hazardous chemicals, you may be required to ensure that these chemicals are managed safely, securely, and in compliance with the federal laws enforced by EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

During inspections of chemical warehouse and distribution facilities, EPA frequently found these concerns:

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  • Failure to account for chemicals in all containers (including aerosol cans, cylinders, storage tanks, etc.) that could be affected by the same emergency, such as a fire.
  • Failure to file and implement a Risk Management Program (RMP), often because insufficient inventory systems failed to flag that inventories exceeded regulatory thresholds.
  • Failure to include the entire weight of a flammable mixture with a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) flammability rating of 4 in threshold calculations, not just the amounts of RMP listed chemicals.
  • Failure to submit a Tier II form, Safety Data Sheet (SDS), or TRI Form R in violation of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).
  • Storage of flammable chemicals in buildings that are not structurally appropriate or not equipped with proper fire protection.
  • Failure to complete a Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) Top-Screen, as well as not utilizing predictive filing to determine all reportable chemicals of interest.

In addition, EPA found that employees need clear information on how to avoid co-location of incompatible chemicals. To ensure safety, employers should consider physical markings or barriers to separate incompatible materials, ensure that buildings are structurally appropriate for the storage of chemicals, and ensure that buildings have with proper fire protection (e.g., alarms, sprinklers, etc.).

RMP vs. PSM

Facilities also need to understand when RMP requirements apply, and how those provisions differ from OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. For example, both EPA and OSHA use the term “process” but apply different definitions.

OSHA’s definition of “process” at 29 CFR 1910.119 covers any group of vessels which are interconnected. It also covers separate vessels under a single “process” if they are located so that a highly hazardous chemical could be involved in a potential release.

EPA’s definition of “process” in 40 CFR 68.3 also states that separate vessels located such that a regulated substance could be involved in a potential release shall be considered a single process. However, EPA presumes that storage of a threshold amount of RMP chemical in a single warehouse is usually one “process.” Thus, a chemical that is divided up and placed in different parts of the same warehouse may still be stored in the same “process” for purposes of RMP, unless:

  • The different storage containers are widely separated such that a release from one container would not lead to a release from another, and
  • An external event would not have the potential to release the substance from multiple containers.

The RMP program has some other differences from PSM as well. For example:

  • Hydrofluoric acid is not on the OSHA PSM list, but it is an RMP chemical.
  • The RMP rule, unlike OSHA’s PSM standard, does not exempt flammables stored at atmospheric pressure.
  • There is a much shorter list of flammable liquids subject to RMP than PSM.

Key to remember: EPA reminds chemical warehouse and distribution facilities to ensure that their chemicals are managed safely, securely, and in compliance with the federal laws.

About the author
Ed Zalewski - EH&S Editor

Ed specializes in safety issues such as injury recordkeeping, walking-working surfaces, and forklifts. He is responsible for researching regulatory activity and issues facing EHS professionals in order to develop and update content for J. J. Keller’s EHS products.

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