Monday, August 8, 2022

Gas Leak or Glass Leak? Is it a Reportable Release ?

An interesting set of articles about a weekend fire at a glass manufacturing facility in Wichita, TX. Initial reports (here, here, and here) explained that a ‘gas leak’ was the cause of a fire and explosion at the facility that lead to nine employees being sent to the hospital. The local Sheriff was quoted as providing the information about gas leak near a burner leading to the explosion.

A statement from the company is quoted here as saying that the fire was the result of “a leak allowing hot, molten glass to escape from the vessel.” That quote goes on to explain that the evacuated employees were being treated for heat stress. It would be easy to miss-hear “glass leak” as a “gas leak” in a verbal report about the incident.

This incident does raise an interesting point related to the CSB’s chemical release reporting rule. If the fire had been due to a natural gas leak, would it have triggered a reporting mandate under 40 CFR 1604.3? That section requires reporting for “any accidental release resulting in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage.”

A couple of key definitions from §1604.2 bear on the answer to that question:

• Accidental release means an unanticipated emission of a regulated substance or other extremely hazardous substance into the ambient air from a stationary source.

• Extremely hazardous substance means any substance which may cause death, serious injury, or substantial property damage, including but not limited to, any ‘‘regulated substance’’ at or below any threshold quantity set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator under 42 USC 7412(r)(5).

• Serious injury means any injury or illness that results in death or inpatient hospitalization.

Natural gas (presumably the fuel source for glass smelting process) would certainly classify as a ‘extremely hazardous substance’, so we would have had the requisite ‘accidental release’ if any of the employees taken to the hospital for treatment were admitted for treatment or observation.

Interestingly, an argument could be made that molten glass could be considered an ‘extremely hazardous substance’ upon release. And while no news reports claim that any of the evacuated employees were injured as a result of contact with the leaked molten glass, it would seem that the injuries could be considered to be as a result of that release. So, maybe this was a reportable release in any case.

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