A chlorine emergency kit designed to protect businesses against chlorine gas leaks. Image via Chemtech.
Many facilities — across many different industries — handle hazardous gases and other materials as part of their everyday operations. This is why measures such as spill containment berms and gas spill containment solutions are so important to environmental compliance.
But what are the current regulations surrounding gas leaks and other spills? What do facility managers need to do to ensure full environmental compliance in 2022 and way beyond? Read on to learn about this in more detail.
Controlling Hazardous Gases
Controls on Air Pollutants Under the Clean Air Act (CAA)
Under the CAA, introduced in 1970, state governments across the USA must work toward achieving National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in all areas within their jurisdiction. This means monitoring air pollution levels, strategizing pollution mitigation, and, crucially, ensuring that local businesses and facilities are held to account when it comes to pollution.
Within the parameters of the act, states must regulate six gases designated as air pollutants. These six gases are:
- Carbon monoxide (CO3)
- Ground-level ozone (O3), excluding natural ozone found at higher levels in the earth’s atmosphere
- Vapors containing lead (Pb) such as tetraethyllead (C8H20Pb)
- Nitrogen oxide (NO) and derivative chemicals
- Particulate matter
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
It is important for facility managers to remember that these six named air pollutants are not the only gases that are regulated and monitored. Facilities across the country must deploy gas spill containment for any material deemed harmful or hazardous to humans, animals, and the natural environment. Any facilities found to have been negligent or improperly prepared can still be fined and prosecuted under state and federal government environmental compliance rules, even if they are not using any of the six gases listed above.
Post COP26 — Changes to Methane Regulation
Following on from the COP26 climate talks, the United States government has begun to implement stricter controls on methane emissions. Any facility or plant that produces or works with methane gases will need to take steps to limit the release of this material into the atmosphere.
The EPA has announced a target of 41 million tons of methane emissions eliminated between 2023 and 2035, a reduction that is estimated to be equivalent to 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is “more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from all US passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019,” the EPA’s statement said.
Controlling Liquid Spills and Other Materials
Hazardous Materials According to the Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates any material that is deemed harmful or hazardous. This means facility managers and business owners will need to deploy spill containment berms to mitigate the risk of spillage or leaks whenever this material is handled. Materials are classed as hazardous according to the following criteria:
- Ignition Potential
These are materials that can ignite under standard levels of temperature and pressure. This includes ignition caused by friction, by changes to moisture levels, or by chemical changes. Compressed gases and oxidizing agents are also considered to have high ignition potential.
Excluded are liquids that are not aqueous solutions with less than 24% alcohol content, as well as any liquid with a point of ignition below 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Any material — whether solid, liquid, or gas — that burns either with a high level of heat intensity or over an extended duration will be classed as hazardous under the EPA guidelines.
Any alkali or base with a pH level above 12.5 will be considered dangerously corrosive. Similarly, any acidic material with a pH of 2 or below will also be considered seriously hazardous.
Liquids that instigate a corrosive reaction in contact with steel may be considered to be a corrosion hazard. If the rate of corrosion exceeds 0.25 inches per year at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, it will meet the EPA’s hazardous materials criteria.
Any material that is unstable at ordinary ambient levels of temperature and pressure may be considered dangerously reactive. If this instability results in a vigorous change in state or chemical makeup, a hazardous classification will be applied, even if detonation does not occur.
Materials that are prone to detonation — whether under extreme levels of heat and pressure or in ordinary atmospheric conditions — will need to be treated with extreme care. Some materials may also be designated as forbidden explosives, Class A explosives, or Class B explosives under the EPA’s classifications.
The material’s interaction with water will also be taken into account. If there is a violent reaction when the material comes into contact with water, if toxic chemicals are produced upon contact with water, or if the reaction can cause harm to humans, animals, and the environment, this will be designated as hazardous.
Any material that the EPA deems toxic to humans, animals, or plant life will be regulated and must be handled with care to ensure ongoing environmental compliance. This may include materials such as chlorine gas, which must be strictly controlled whenever it is used.
Deploying the Right Solution for the Right Job
It’s not enough simply to deploy a spill containment berm or chlorine emergency kit and hope for the best. Facility managers and business owners need to show that they have a clear and well-defined plan for dealing with this kind of spillage or gas leak. The plan will need to ensure that:
- Containment solutions are fit for purpose and can prevent the escape of gases and other materials in common usage at the facility.
- All personnel are aware of their duties and responsibilities.
- The proper risk assessments and monitoring tasks are carried out.
- Hazardous materials are clearly labeled in accordance with regulations.
- Storage facilities are carefully controlled, preventing any extreme atmospheric conditions that could contribute to hazards.
All in all, a comprehensive approach is required. Gas leak containment solutions such as chlorine emergency kits, as well as spill berms, form an important line of defense against catastrophe, but this is only part of the job. Safe and responsible working procedures will help to prevent spills and gas leaks before they occur, helping the facility to remain fully compliant — even as regulations evolve and change in the years to come.