Posted on October 31, 2023 by Qaiser Baig

Safety First: The General Duty Clause's Impact on Toxic Substance Management

Don’t Forget the General Duty Clause! Even if you don’t violate a specific air quality regulation, you could still violate the General Duty Clause.

Under the Clean Air Act Section 112(r)(1), the General Duty Clause states: “The owners and operators of stationary sources producing, processing, handling or storing such substances [i.e., a chemical in 40 CFR part 68 or any other extremely hazardous substance] have a general duty [in the same manner and to the same extent as the general duty clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)] to identify hazards which may result from (such) releases using appropriate hazard assessment techniques, to design and maintain a safe facility taking such steps as are necessary to prevent releases, and to minimize the consequences of accidental releases which do occur.”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cited industries for violating the general duty clause of the Clean Air Act. The general duty clause requires facilities to take precautions to prevent the release of hazardous air pollutants, even if those pollutants are not explicitly regulated under the act.

Violations of the general duty clause have been cited, and violators fined. Just last year, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) settled with Greenfield Global USA, Inc., a chemical repackaging and storage company in Brookfield, Connecticut, for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause (CAA GDC) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Greenfield agreed to pay a penalty of $179,596 and certify compliance with all CAA GDC and EPCRA requirements.

EPA inspectors found that Greenfield failed to design and maintain a safe facility to prevent releases of toxic chemicals under the CAA GDC requirements. Additionally, the company did not correctly submit nine reports on certain toxic chemicals to EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database for 2017 and 2018. Greenfield stored and processed various toxic chemicals, including highly hazardous substances like chloroform, formaldehyde, and sulfuric acid.

The facility's location near retail businesses, highways, and a residential neighborhood, as well as neighboring environmental justice concerns, raised concerns about potential risks to human health and the environment due to the presence of carcinogenic and highly flammable substances.

Don’t forget that you have a general duty to manage your toxic substances safely!

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Qaiser Baig

Qaiser Baig is a Senior Environmental Engineer who holds professional engineering licenses in Indiana and Michigan. He provides Cornerstone’s clients with senior level air permitting and air compliance projects, including preparation of permit applications, negotiation of permit conditions, resolution of compliance issues, report preparation, and analysis of state and federal regulations.