Communicating your environmental risk management program helps make your plant a welcome neighbor

Industry faces many challenges these days, from domestic and foreign competition to the myriad complex regulations that affect the workplace One of industry's biggest challenges comes from right in its own backyard.

By Anthony J Sadar April 1, 1999

Industry faces many challenges these days, from domestic and foreign competition to the myriad complex regulations that affect the workplace

One of industry’s biggest challenges comes from right in its own backyard. A recent regulation by the EPA is compelling many facilities to develop risk-communication strategies. The regulation, “Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs,” ( Federal Register 6/20/96) is intended to help prevent the accidental release of extremely hazardous substances to the atmosphere and to minimize the consequences of any such releases.

The regulation

Codified in 40 CFR Part 68, the rule is frequently referred to simply as 112(r) because it falls under that section of the Clean Air Act. Affected facilities must comply with this regulation by no later than the latest of: June 21, 1999; 3 yr after the date on which a regulated substance is first listed by the EPA; or the first time a regulated substance rises above its threshold quantity (TQ) in a process. (A TQ is a chemical-specific level set by the EPA for certain substances.)

The 112(r) regulation applies to any stationary source with a process or processes that contains a TQ of a listed chemical. A stationary source is defined as “any buildings, structures, equipment, installations, or substance emitting stationary activities which belong to the same industrial group, which are located on one or more contiguous properties, which are under the control of the same person (or persons under common control), and from which an accidental release may occur…. A stationary source includes transportation containers used for storage not incident to transportation and transportation containers connected to equipment at a stationary source for loading, or unloading.”

A process is defined as “any activity involving a regulated substance including any use, storage, manufacturing, handling, or on-site movement of such substances, or combination of these activities. For the purposes of this definition, any group of vessels that are interconnected, or separate vessels that are located such that a regulated substance could be involved in a potential release, shall be considered a single process.”

The requirements

TQs were listed for 77 toxic and 63 flammable substances in the Federal Register on January 31, 1994, with important revisions made on January 6, 1998. To fulfill the obligations under 112(r), a facility (the stationary source) needs to complete the following activities.

1. Determine if TQs of the listed toxic and flammable substances are present in any process within the facility.

2. Determine for each process the level of compliance (referred to as Program 1, 2, or 3, with 1 being the simplest and 3 the most complex) that is needed.

3. Fulfill the requirements of 112(r) for each process that uses TQs of listed substances. For multiple processes at a facility, different levels of compliance may apply.

The major requirements of 112(r) include management system development and documentation, hazard assessment for each process, prevention program completion, emergency response program coordination, and risk management plan submittal.

The management system oversees the implementation of risk management program requirements. A facility must identify the personnel or positions assigned to ensure that the program is properly implemented.

The hazard assessment includes what is called an “offsite consequence analysis,” an activity designed to determine worst-case air impacts of 112(r)-related operations. “More-likely” alternatives must be evaluated for Program 2 and 3 processes. Appropriate air-dispersion models and modeling techniques must be used to demonstrate the anticipated impact of emissions from the worst-case and alternative-case releases.

The prevention program helps ensure that regulated substances are safely stored and handled, and that procedures and equipment are established to detect and mitigate the impact of a chemical release should it occur. The completion of OSHA Process Safety Management requirements essentially satisfies 112(r) prevention program requirements for Program 3 processes.

The emergency response program must be developed and implemented to protect public health and the environment. If employees are not to respond to accidental releases, appropriate mechanisms must be in place to notify emergency responders when the need occurs.

A written risk management plan (RMP) must be prepared and submitted to the EPA or other designated government organization according to the schedule noted previously. The RMP must be available for public review. The EPA has prepared for the electronic submission of an RMP form. The public will have access to this information through the internet or through local emergency planning committees.

The plan

As required in Subpart G of the 112(r) rule, the RMP must include, depending on Program level, some or all of the following:

* An executive summary containing a synopsis of the source’s accidental release program and policies

* A completed registration form

* Offsite consequence analyses for worst-case and alternative-case releases

* A 5-yr accident history

* A prevention program

* Emergency response program information

* Certification that the information submitted is “true, accurate, and complete.”

The regulation does not require a plant to communicate directly with the surrounding community. However, in certain circumstances (past incidents, suspicious neighbors, for example) it may be desirable to do so.

Communication requires that you know your audience. People generally can be fit into one of four categories: for you, against you, indifferent, or concerned. Concerned citizens are the ones a plant should be most interested in reaching. They are the ones most eager to learn about the environmental and safety issues related to your facility. Those who are for or against your operations will not likely be swayed by anything you say or do. Those who are indifferent won’t care.

Although a public relations firm is not necessary to help you tell your story, you must be able to communicate your position clearly, accurately, promptly, and succinctly, with sensitivity and flexibility. Explaining the company’s position truthfully in this way should produce results favorable to your facility.

Implementing the crucial components of effective communication need not be complicated. Information communicated to the public must be understandable by the average citizen. Information must also be accurate, whether it be qualitative explanations like process descriptions and safety procedures, or quantitative technical data such as operating parameters, water and air quality sampling results, or chemical characteristics.

Companies must also be sensitive to their audiences. Act with courtesy. Not only exclude offensive remarks, but respect your audience’s experiences and beliefs, and be flexible and ready to correct quickly any deficiencies discovered in your operations.

The results

Communication is more than just talk. The four principles below are suggested as ways to help a facility communicate in a manner that will produce favorable results. They are designed to help ensure a proper public perspective about the plant. They also can serve as a basis for a risk-communication plan and should be included in your operation’s environmental management system.

1. Operate legally and ethically. Plant owners and operators must always comply with all federal, state, and local laws. But owners and operators must do more than what is legal. They must do what is right: Operate in a fair and just manner toward their employees and the community.

2. Educate employees on benefits and risks. Make sure employees are aware of the benefits your facility brings to the community. Employees who are knowledgeable, proud of where they work, and actively practicing pollution prevention at work and at home are your best community relations source.

3. Listen and respond appropriately to the public. Effective risk communication requires trust, and trust requires dialogue. The public is a legitimate stakeholder in your process, and RMP regulations are increasing the tools it has to influence your activities. It is usually more effective to maintain a com mitment to addressing public concerns through a citizens advisory committee, rather than handling a public protest.

4. Disseminate information to the media properly. Give the media clear, accurate, complete, and consistent information. Disseminating proper information on your plant and operations lets you maintain greater control over public perception.

Continuous attention to clear, accurate, succinct, prompt, and sensitive communication, coupled with legal and ethical plant operations, should produce favorable publicity for your plant. A neighbor who communicates and operates in such a manner should be welcome in any community.

Tony Sadar has more than 20 yr of experience in meteorology and air-quality issues, specializing in risk communications, air-dispersion modeling, and regulatory compliance. In addition to his duties at SE Technologies, he is an adjunct science instructor at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh and lectures on air-pollution meteorology at Carnegie Mellon. Tony is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) with an MS in environmental science from the University of Cincinnati and a BS in meteorology from Penn State. A “last-minute” guide to risk management program compliance and environmental risk communication is available by contacting the author at 800-685-0354.